RTKs (receptor tyrosine kinases) play important roles in cellular proliferation and differentiation. In addition, RTKs reveal oncogenic potential when their kinase activities are constitutively enhanced by point mutation, amplification or rearrangement of the corresponding genes. The ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase) RTK was originally identified as a member of the insulin receptor subfamily of RTKs that acquires transforming capability when truncated and fused to NPM (nucleophosmin) in the t(2;5) chromosomal rearrangement associated with ALCL (anaplastic large cell lymphoma). To date, many chromosomal rearrangements leading to enhanced ALK activity have been described and are implicated in a number of cancer types. Recent reports of the EML4 (echinoderm microtubule-associated protein like 4)-ALK oncoprotein in NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancer), together with the identification of activating point mutations in neuroblastoma, have highlighted ALK as a significant player and target for drug development in cancer. In the present review we address the role of ALK in development and disease and discuss implications for the future.