Because neoplasia includes very different diseases, it is difficult to find a definition that describes them all. The definition of the British oncologist R.A. Willis is widely cited: ''A neoplasm is an abnormal mass of tissue, the growth of which exceeds and is uncoordinated with that of the normal tissues, and persists in the same excessive manner after cessation of the stimulus which evoked the change.''
This definition is criticized because some neoplasms, such as nevi, are not progressive.
Neoplastic tumors often contain more than one type of cell, but their initiation and continued growth is usually dependent on a single population of neoplastic cells. These cells are presumed to be clonal - that is, they are descended from a single progenitor cell.
Sometimes, the neoplastic cells all carry the same genetic or epigenetic anomaly which becomes evidence for clonality. For lymphoid neoplasms, e.g. lymphoma and leukemia, clonality is proven by the amplification of a single rearrangement of their immunoglobulin gene (for B cell lesions) or T-cell receptor gene (for T cell lesions). The demonstration of clonality is now considered to be necessary to identify a lymphoid cell proliferation as neoplastic.
It is tempting to define neoplasms as clonal cellular proliferations but the demonstration of clonality is not always possible. Therefore, clonality is not required in the definition of neoplasia.
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