The increased use of abdominal imaging techniques for a variety of indications has contributed to more-frequent detection of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Ultrasonography has been used to characterize the solid versus cystic nature of renal masses. This modality has limitations, however, in further characterization of solid tumors and in staging of malignancy, although contrast-enhanced ultrasonography has shown promise. Cross-sectional imaging with multiplanar reconstruction capability via CT or MRI has become the standard-bearer in the diagnosis, staging and surveillance of renal cancers. The use of specific protocols and the exploitation of different imaging characteristics of RCC subtypes, including variations in contrast agent timing, MRI weighting and digital subtraction, have contributed to this diagnostic capability. Cystic renal masses are a special case, evaluation of which can require multiple imaging modalities. Rigorous evaluation of these lesions can provide information that is crucial to prediction of the likelihood of malignancy. Such imaging is not without risk, however, as radiation from frequent CT imaging has been implicated in the development of secondary malignancies, and contrast agents for CT and MRI can pose risks, particularly in patients with compromised renal function.