The incidence of early and advanced-stage renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is increasing. Methods of diagnosing, staging and evaluating tumor burden that are more accurate and reliable than the currently available options are needed in order to identify RCC at a stage at which it is curable and to accurately determine the response to treatment. Functional imaging, particularly with combined PET-CT, might improve accuracy of detection and provide essential information that has been unavailable to date. This approach is against a background in which targeted therapies for metastatic RCC have entered clinical practice in the past few years, further highlighting the importance of accurate imaging for patient selection and for monitoring response to treatment. We outline the current clinical status of functional imaging in RCC using PET-CT, which allows simultaneous capture and co-registration of functional and anatomical data. New radiotracers and approaches-including radiolabeled monoclonal antibodies and imaging of tumor hypoxia-are touched on, and areas of future research discussed.