Your diagnosis

People who have ALK

People who have ALK+ NSCLC

People who are diagnosed with ALK+ NSCLC tend to be:
  • Younger than a lot of other people diagnosed with cancer10–12
    About a third of people with ALK+ NSCLC are diagnosed before they are 40, and about half by the time they are 50. In comparison, most people with lung cancer are usually diagnosed around the age of 70
  • Never-smokers, or light smokers10,11,13,14
    Many people who are diagnosed with ALK+ NSCLC have only lightly smoked, or never even smoked at all

Risk factors for developing ALK+ NSCLC

Right now, we don’t know exactly why some people develop a change in their ALK gene.

Although smoking and being exposed to second-hand smoke are some of the most well-known causes of lung cancer,15 people who develop ALK+ NSCLC have often never smoked, or may have only lightly smoked, in the past.5,16

Developing lung cancer when you have little or no smoking history can be extremely frustrating, and you might find yourself looking for answers as to why you have developed lung cancer at all.

There are a number of other factors (summarised below) that are thought to be associated with the development of NSCLCs. However, it’s important to note that for some people, there may be no obvious cause as to why they have developed ALK+ NSCLC.

Exposure to inhaled or ingested substances such as:
  • Asbestos17
  • Arsenic17
  • Non-tobacco smoke (e.g. burning buildings and wildfires, which may contain traces of metals and other carcinogenic substances)17
  • Diesel exhaust17
  • Metals such as chromium, beryllium, and nickel (you might be exposed to these if you work with car engines, or around smelting or welding, for example)17
  • Atmospheric pollutants18
Radiation exposure from:
  • X-rays, CT scans19
  • Radiotherapy to the chest area20
  • Radon exposure21
  • Exposure to radioactive fallout22
Family history/genetics
  • Although inheritance is not guaranteed, people with a family history of lung cancer are more likely to develop it than people without22,23
HIV infection
  • People with HIV are up to three times more likely to develop lung cancer than those without the infection24,25

Click on one of the options below to learn more 

Anaplastic lymphoma kinase
Deoxyribonucleic acid
Non-small cell lung cancer

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  16. Perez CA et al. Lung Cancer 2014; 84(2): 110–115.
  17. Field RW & Withers BL. Clin Chest Med 2012; 33(4): 10.1016/j.ccm.2012.07.001.
  18. World Health Organization (WHO). Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health. 2018. Available at: Accessed October 2021.
  19. Berrington de González A et al. J Med Screen 2008; 15(3): 153–158.
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  21. American Cancer Society. Radon and cancer. 2015. Available at: Accessed October 2021.
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  30. European Medicines Agency. Xalkori (crizotinib) European public assessment report, summary for the public. EMA/73311/2018, EMEA/H/C/002489. 2017. Available at: Accessed October 2021.
  31. European Medicines Agency. Alecensa (alectinib) European public assessment report, summary for the public. EMA/376895/2018, EMEA/H/C/004164. 2018. Available at: Accessed October 2021.
  32. Pacheco MJ et al. J Thorac Oncol 2019; 14(4): 691–700.