BACKGROUND Pulmonary metastasectomy of renal cell carcinomas (RCC) remains controversial. Thoracic lymph node involvement (LNI) is a known prognostic factor. The aim of our analysis is to evaluate whether patients with LNI, and particularly N2 patients, should be excluded from surgical treatment. METHODS We retrospectively reviewed data from 122 patients who underwent operations at two French thoracic surgery departments between 1993 and 2011 for RCC lung metastases. RESULTS The population consisted of 38 women and 84 men; the average age at time of metastasectomy was 63.3 years (min: 43, max: 82). LNI was identified as a prognostic factor using univariate and multivariate analysis (median survival: 107 months vs. 37 months, P = 0.003; HR = 0.384 (0.179; 0.825), P = 0.01, respectively). Although differences in survival between metastases at the hilar and mediastinal locations were not significant (median survival: 74 months vs. 32 months, respectively, P = 0.75), length of survival time was associated with disease-free interval less than 12 months (median survival: 23 months vs. 94 months, P < 0.0001; HR = 3.081 (1.193; 7.957), P = 0.02). CONCLUSION Although LNI has an adverse effect on survival; long-term survival can be achieved in pN+ patients. Consequently, these patients should not be excluded from surgery. Systematic lymphadenectomy should be performed to obtain more accurate staging and to determine appropriate adjuvant treatment.