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About the disease

About the disease

What is ALK-positive cancer ?

ALK-positive cancer is caused by an abnormal rearrangement of the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene, leading to uncontrolled cell replication and survival.

ALK-positive cancer is only discoverable by molecular testing and is found in a minority of cancer patients.

This type of cancer can occur in various forms, including Non-Small Cell Lung Carcinoma (NSCLC), Breast carcinoma, Colon carcinoma, Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, Thyroid carcinoma, Papillary thyroid, Hepatocellular carcinoma, Endometrial carcinoma, Renal carcinoma, Prostatic small cell carcinoma, Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL), Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL), Histiocytosis, Plasmacytoma, IMT, Neuroblastoma Medulloblastoma, Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, Fibrous histiocytoma, and Synovial sarcoma.

Who is getting ALK-positive cancer ?

 ALK Positive Cancer is presented in a minority of cancer patients and is only discoverable by molecular testing. We are still learning about the prevalence of ALK oncogene-driven cancer across several types of cancers and demographics. We already know that about 2% to 5% of all lung cancers have the ALK-rearrangement. This is the new face of lung cancer and other cancers, only discoverable if patients are given access to molecular testing which is not yet widespread practice across Europe. 

There is no evidence that ALK-positive cancer it is caused by environmental factors (e.g., first or second-hand smoke, air pollution, radon, asbestos, chemicals) or by hereditary factors. Studies focusing on ALK-positive Lung Cancer show that well over 80% of patients are diagnosed at advance stage. A fourth and almost half of ALK-positive lung cancer patients are younger than age 40 and 50 respectively when diagnosed, about 65% have never smoked and only 18% have ever smoked more than five cigarettes per day.

ALK-positive treatment

Researchers have discovered treatments that inhibit ALK-positive cancer growth. Oral medications known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are offered to advanced ALK-positive lung cancer patients and can slow or even stop cancer progression for years, often with minimal adverse side effects. There is no known cure for advanced lung cancer yet. However, TKIs often increase life span by years compared to traditional cancer treatments.

The same treatments are currently trialled with patients presenting non-lung ALK-positive cancers. Advances in immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments are also helping. Traditional therapies for advanced cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiation alone, have less success than TKIs. Eventually, cancer cells can change to become resistant to TKIs.