Non-clear cell renal carcinomas: Review of new molecular insights and recent clinical data

Cancer Treat Rev. 2021 Jun:97:102191. doi: 10.1016/j.ctrv.2021.102191. Epub 2021 Apr 9.


Non-clear cell renal cell carcinomas (nccRCC) represent a highly heterogeneous group of kidney tumors, consisting of the following subtypes: papillary carcinomas, chromophobe renal cell carcinoma, so-called unclassified carcinomas or aggressive uncommon carcinomas such as Bellini carcinoma, renal cell carcinoma (RCC) with ALK rearrangement or fumarate hydratase-deficient RCC. Although non-clear cell cancers account for only 15 to 30% of renal tumors, they are often misclassified and accurate diagnosis continues to be an issue in clinical practice. Current therapeutic strategy of metastatic nccRCC is based primarily on guidelines established for clear cell tumors, the most common subtype, however this approach remains poorly defined. To date, published clinical trials for all histological nccRCC subtypes have been collectively characterized into one group, in contrast to clear cell RCC, and given the small numbers of cases, the interpretation of study results continues to be challenging. This review summarizes the available literature for each nccRCC subtype and highlights the lack of supportive evidence from prospective clinical trials and retrospective studies. Future trials should evaluate treatment approaches which focus on a specific histological subtype and progress in treating nccRCC will be contingent on understanding the unique biology of their individual histologies.

Keywords: Classification; Genetic and molecular alterations; Histological subtypes; Non-clear cell carcinomas; Renal carcinoma; Unclassified.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / classification
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Kidney Neoplasms / classification
  • Kidney Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic / standards*
  • Prognosis


  • Antineoplastic Agents