The presence of somatostatin receptors was evaluated in samples of 39 surgically removed human renal cell carcinomas with receptor autoradiography on tumor sections by using iodinated [Tyr3]octreotide as the radioligand. All types, grades and stages of tumors were represented. Twenty-eight of 39 renal cell carcinomas (72%) were shown to be somatostatin receptor positive. The receptors were saturable, of high affinity (KD = 0.8 nm), and were specific for somatostatin and bioactive somatostatin analogues. No evident correlations were found between the status of somatostatin receptors in the tumor and the age or sex of the patients, the histopathological type or grade of the tumor, or the tumornode-metastasis stage of the disease. However, numerous cases considered to be of poor prognosis were somatostatin receptor positive. No functional correlates for these receptors have been established, although the presence of somatostatin receptors in human kidneys and somatostatin effects on renal tubular functions in normal human volunteers have been reported. In a patient scanned in vivo for islet cell carcinomas with an 123I-labeled somatostatin analogue, bilateral renal cell carcinomas were also visualized; multiple bilateral renal cell carcinomas were identified on the 1- and 4-h images taken after injection of 123I-labeled somatostatin analogue. In conclusion, the high incidence of somatostatin receptors in renal cell carcinomas may have diagnostic value when performing in vivo imaging of somatostatin receptors and it may have potential therapeutic implications.