Sarah Cannon - December 04, 2014

5 Facts You Should Know About ALK-Positive Lung Cancer

ALK-positive lung cancer (also known as ALK-rearranged lung cancer) occurs when a region of the DNA in a cell is rearranged, which then creates a signal causing lung cancer cells to grow. Here are five facts about ALK-positive lung cancer anyone with lung cancer should know.

1. ALK-positive lung cancer is rare.

Only one in 20 people (about five percent) with lung cancer are diagnosed with this type of lung cancer.

2. Most ALK diagnoses are in non-smokers.

Most ALK diagnoses are in non-smokers, but smokers can also develop it. Typically, smoking contributes to 85 percent and 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in women and men respectively.

3. ALK-positive lung cancer is not inherited.

Despite being a genetic abnormality, ALK-positive lung cancer is not one that is inherited, or passed on through family generations.

4. If you have lung cancer, you should be tested.

If you have lung cancer — specifically a type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma, you should be tested for this type of lung cancer. This test examines cancer cells either from the original biopsy sample, or from a second biopsy if the first didn’t have enough tissue for this testing. Results are often back within five to 10 days. *There might be some circumstances where patients with another type of lung cancer, called squamous cell lung cancer, should be tested for this as well.

5. ALK-positive lung cancer can be controlled.

ALK-positive lung cancer can be controlled for extended periods — often many months, and in some patients even years — with one of two new oral chemotherapy drugs. Both crizotinib and ceritinib are quite effective at stopping the growth signals from this ALK abnormality, causing cancer cells to die.

“In general, patients do very well on these medications,” said David Spigel, MD, director of the Lung Cancer Research Program at Sarah Cannon. “Now we also have clinical trials of next generation ALK-directed therapies that are options for patients both upfront and in the relapse setting.”


Sarah Cannon , Genetics Home Reference (U.S. National Library of Medicine), National Human Genome Research Institute, American Cancer Society