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Advances in genetic research have revealed that non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is not a single disease, but rather many types of cancer with different biomarker (or molecular) profiles. In NSCLC with the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) biomarker, parts of the ALK gene and another gene are broken off and rearranged, creating an abnormal (defective) gene. It is this abnormal ALK gene that causes cancer cells to grow and spread.
Your doctor will have performed a test to see if your cancer has the ALK biomarker. Your diagnosis of ALK-positive (ALK+) metastatic NSCLC means that there are treatment options available for your type of cancer.
Understanding treatments for ALK+ tumors
There are discoveries being made with treatment options called ALK inhibitors. These medications may work against tumors with the ALK genetic mutation. They can be used first instead of chemotherapy in patients with ALK+ metastatic NSCLC, or after chemotherapy or a different therapy has stopped working.
Since each patient is different, it's important to talk to your doctor to start on a treatment plan that is going to work best for you.
Although ALK+ metastatic NSCLC tumors can initially respond to ALK+ treatment, over time they may become resistant (or stop responding). This could happen within a year of treatment and may result in disease progression for the patient. Signs may include an increase in size of tumor or development of new tumors.
If you experience any health-related changes, it's important to talk to your health care provider.