Background: This study aimed to elucidate clinical significance of anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) rearrangement in selected advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), to compare the application of different ALK detection methods, and especially evaluate a possible association between ALK expression and clinical outcomes in crizotinib-treated patients.
Methods: ALK status was assessed by fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH), immunohistochemistry (IHC) and quantitative RT-PCR (qRT-PCR) in 173 selected advanced NSCLC patients. Clinicopathologic data, genotype status and survival outcomes were analyzed. Moreover, the association of ALK expression with clinical outcomes was evaluated in ALK FISH-positive crizotinib-treated patients including two patients with concurrent epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutation.
Results: The positivity detection rate of ALK rearrangement by FISH, IHC and qRT-PCR was 35.5% (59/166), 35.7% (61/171), and 27.9% (34/122), respectively. ALK rearrangement was observed predominantly in young patients, never or light smokers, and adenocarcinomas, especially with signet ring cell features and poor differentiation. Median progression-free survival (PFS) of crizotinib-treated patients was 7.6 months. The overall survival (OS) of these patients was longer compared with that of crizotinib-naive or wild-type cohorts, but there was no significant difference in OS compared with patients with EGFR mutation. ALK expression did not associate with PFS; but, when ALK expression was analyzed as a dichotomous variable, moderate and strong ALK expression had a decreased risk of death (P = 0.026). The two patients with concomitant EGFR and ALK alterations showed difference in ALK expression, response to EGFR and ALK inhibitors, and overall survival.
Conclusions: Selective enrichment according to clinicopathologic features in NSCLC patients could highly improve the positivity detection rate of ALK rearrangement for ALK-targeted therapy. IHC could provide more clues for clinical trial design and therapeutic strategies for ALK-positive NSCLC patients including patients with double genetic aberration of ALK and EGFR.