Both locally advanced and metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC) present a challenge in terms of their optimal management. This article reviews the literature and evaluates the role of surgery in the treatment of advanced RCC. Surgery is the optimal treatment for locally advanced RCC and minimal, resectable, metastatic disease. Patients with metastatic disease, and some forms of locally advanced disease, may also benefit from multimodal management with local surgical therapy and systemic treatment using either immunotherapy or targeted therapy. Regardless of the disease stage, patients with locally advanced or metastatic RCC represent heterogenous patient populations with different disease characteristics and risk factors. Individualization of care in the setting of a sound oncologic framework may optimize the risk/benefit ratio within individual patient cohorts.