Renal neoplasms with dominant cysts represent a broad spectrum of known as well as novel renal tumor entities. Established renal tumors with dominant cysts include cystic nephroma, mixed epithelial and stromal tumor, synovial sarcoma and multilocular cystic renal cancer (WHO classification 2004). Novel tumor types have recently been reported, which are also characterized by marked cyst formation. Examples are tubulocystic renal cancer and renal cancer in end-stage renal disease. These tumors are very likely to be included in a future WHO classification due to their characteristic phenotype and molecular features. Cysts and clear cell renal cell carcinoma frequently coexist in the kidneys of patients with von Hippel-Lindau disease. Cysts are also a component of many sporadic clear cell renal cell carcinomas. Multilocular cystic renal cell carcinoma is composed almost exclusively of cysts and is regarded as a specific subtype of clear cell renal cancer. Recent molecular findings suggest that clear cell renal cancer may develop via a cyst-dependent mechanism in von Hippel-Lindau syndrome as well as via cyst-independent molecular pathways in sporadic clear cell renal cancer.