Just Diagnosed With ALK+ Lung Cancer

Here’s What You Need to Know

There are many types of lung cancer, but ALK+ lung cancer is one of several that recently has been given a lot of attention by researchers. In the past decade, the advancements in the treatment of ALK+ lung cancer have been staggering. We can now identify the rearrangements in the ALK gene that drives this cancer type. This has opened the door for new options that are changing the way these cancers are diagnosed and treated. As a result, ALK-targeted therapies have emerged, providing patients with additional treatment options. While there is currently still no cure, new treatment options are available which may help shrink or slow the growth of your tumors.

Here’s Who Is in Your Corner

Support can come in many different forms. If you have a strong support system, lean on them and know they are there to help. If you don’t yet have a strong support system, and you want one, support groups and advocacy groups are a good place to start.

Your support group could consist of:

  • Care Team Care Team Care Team (eg, oncologist, general practitioner, surgeon, pathologist, nurse, office staff)
  • Care Partners Care Partners Care Partners (eg, family, friends, loved ones)
  • Support groups Support groups Community groups (eg, advocacy groups, local patient groups)

You may want to keep doing things on your own, but feel free to ask for help if you need it.

Working With Your Care Team

You may have an extended Care Team that will help you throughout the different phases of your treatment plan.
Some will work more closely with you than others, but they are all focused on helping you.
  As noted above, your Care Team may consist of:

  • Oncologists
  • Nurses
  • General practitioners
  • Pharmacists
  • Surgeons, interventional radiologists, and pulmonologists
  • Social workers
  • Pathologists
  • Office staff

When Speaking With Your Care Team, Be Your Own Advocate

  • Discuss all your treatment options
  • Learn about what to expect from treatment
  • Ask as many questions as you want. Do not worry if your questions seem silly or confusing
  • Take someone with you when visiting your doctor, if you can
  • Prepare questions ahead of time and take notes during your conversations

Always be open with your Care Team and ask any questions you have.

You may learn about and discuss both your short-term and long-term goals.

So What Are Your Treatment Options?

Your oncologist, along with the rest of your Care Team, will help you choose the most appropriate treatment option based on a variety of factors. As scientists and doctors learn more about biomarkers, such as ALK, immunotherapy and targeted therapies continue to emerge. While there is no cure, when compared with chemotherapy, current treatment options may offer people with ALK+ NSCLC increased response to treatment and an increased length of time (during and after treatment) that a person lives without their disease getting worse.

It is important to understand the different types of treatment options.

  • Chemotherapy works to stop cancer cells from growing and dividing. In the process, it can cause damage to some healthy cells.
  • Immunotherapy alerts the body’s immune system about cancer cells and triggers the body to destroy them.
  • Targeted therapies can inhibit or slow the disease growth, progression, and spread of cancer by targeting specific molecules that are responsible for cancer cell growth.

Depending on your Care Team’s plan, you may also receive radiation or have surgery to remove your tumor(s).

Remember, you are an important part of your own treatment decision. Work with your healthcare team to learn about all of your options. Ask questions to understand the plan that your Care Team has recommended. Feel free to speak up if anything is unclear or you have any concerns.

Another factor to consider is how your treatment is given. You can get treatment primarily in two ways: orally, as in taking a pill or capsule by mouth, or by IV infusions. Work with your team to determine the best option for you.

Actively learning more about the disease and treatments can help you along every step of the way.

Be Good to Yourself

Right now, you may feel scared and confused—that’s normal. But you don’t have to stay there. Acknowledge how you feel, talk to your Care Partners and support groups, and even seek therapy if you think it will make you feel better. Many hospitals offer therapy as part of a treatment plan, so find out if yours does.

Creating a healthy lifestyle and modifying some habits may make a big difference in your overall health during treatment. Good nutrition, exercise, and stress-relieving activities, such as yoga, may complement your treatment. Remember to always talk with your Care Team before starting any new exercise program, or altering your lifestyle or diet.

You should be aware of the symptoms your disease can have. Some symptoms could consist of, but are not limited to: fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, pain in the chest, loss of appetite, frequent respiratory infection, swollen lymph nodes, hoarseness, wheezing, weight loss, coughing up phlegm or mucus, headaches, or bone or joint pain. Let your Care Team know if your symptoms get worse or you suddenly have new symptoms.

Your Care Team will try to help manage these symptoms so you can continue with your daily routine.

Talk to Your Doctor About Some Strategies to Help You Achieve a Healthier Lifestyle

  • Eat well: What we put in our bodies has a direct correlation with how we feel. Good stuff in and we generally feel good. Bad stuff in and, well, you get the picture.
  • Be active: We know it sounds counterintuitive but being active can play a direct role in actually reducing fatigue. It also helps to improve mood.
  • Mental wellbeing: A cancer diagnosis and treatment can be stressful. Incorporate helpful relaxing skills, such as slow rhythmic breathing and yoga.
  • No smoking/drinking: We all know that smoking and drinking are not good for us. But especially now, as you begin treatment, it’s important not to start, or continue with, these unhealthy habits.
Sources: Johns Hopkins University website and García-Lavandeira JA, Ruano-Ravina A, Barros-Dios JM. Gac Sanit. 2016;30(4):311–7.

And Something for
Your Care Partners…

You can lean on your support system—don’t feel like you are a burden.
Share this with your Care Partner so he or she can learn how to provide the support you need and deserve.



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