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Purpose of review: Summarize current evidence for cytoreductive nephrectomy in patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC) of variant histology.

Recent findings: The mainstream treatment for advanced malignancy is systematic therapy, including chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. Nonetheless, cytoreductive nephrectomy has been used in the management of mRCC including variant (nonclear cell) histology. Prospective data supported cytoreductive nephrectomy for clear cell mRCC in the cytokine immunotherapy era in the late 1990s. In the targeted therapy era, the practice of cytoreductive nephrectomy in nonclear and clear cell histology had been largely based on retrospective data, but a recent phase III trial showed that targeted therapy alone is noninferior to targeted therapy combined with cytoreductive nephrectomy, therefore, questioning the clinical benefit of cytoreductive nephrectomy in this context. However, this trial had excluded patient with nonclear cell histology. With the potential for checkpoint inhibitor combinations to achieve long-term complete durable response, cytoreductive nephrectomy is a subject of ongoing debate especially, in nonclear cell histology as those were excluded from prospective trials.

Summary: Data are very sparse in nonclear histology. Although retrospective data favor the use of cytoreductive nephrectomy in nonclear cell mRCC, clinicians must carefully select patients and balance risks of surgery and delayed systemic therapy.

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