This paper presents the conclusions of a workshop entitled ‘Impact of Molecular Genetics on the Classification of Renal Cell Tumours’, which was held in Heidelberg in October 1996. The focus on ‘renal cell tumours’ excludes any discussion of Wilms' tumour and its variants, or of tumours metastatic to the kidneys. The proposed classification subdivides renal cell tumours into benign and malignant parenchymal neoplasms and, where possible, limits each subcategory to the most commonly documented genetic abnormalities. Benign tumours are subclassified into metanephric adenoma and adenofibroma, papillary renal cell adenoma, and renal oncocytoma. Malignant tumours are subclassified into common or conventional renal cell carcinoma; papillary renal cell carcinoma; chromophobe renal cell carcinoma; collecting duct carcinoma, with medullary carcinoma of the kidney; and renal cell carcinoma, unclassified. This classification is based on current genetic knowledge, correlates with recognizable histological findings, and is applicable to routine diagnostic practice. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.