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Our objective was to compare cancer-specific survival and to examine associations with outcome among the histologic subtypes of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). We studied 2385 patients whose first surgery between 1970 and 2000 was a radical nephrectomy for sporadic, unilateral RCC. All RCC tumors were classified following the 1997 Union Internationale Contre le Cancer and American Joint Committee on Cancer guidelines. There were 1985 (83.2%) patients with clear cell, 270 (11.3%) with papillary, 102 (4.3%) with chromophobe, 6 (0.3%) with collecting duct, 5 (0.3%) with purely sarcomatoid RCC and no underlying histologic subtype, and 17 (0.7%) with RCC, not otherwise specified. Cancer-specific survival rates at 5 years for patients with clear cell, papillary, and chromophobe RCC were 68.9%, 87.4%, and 86.7%, respectively. Patients with clear cell RCC had a poorer prognosis compared with patients with papillary and chromophobe RCC (p <0.001). This difference in outcome was observed even after stratifying by 1997 tumor stage and nuclear grade. There was no significant difference in cancer-specific survival between patients with papillary and chromophobe RCC (p = 0.918). The 1997 TNM stage, tumor size, presence of a sarcomatoid component, and nuclear grade were significantly associated with death from clear cell, papillary, and chromophobe RCC. Histologic tumor necrosis was significantly associated with death from clear cell and chromophobe RCC, but not with death from papillary RCC. Our results demonstrate that there are significant differences in outcome and associations with outcome for the different histologic subtypes of RCC, highlighting the need for accurate subtyping.