All women must know about this aggressive and difficult to treat type of breast cancer as it spreads aggressively and the chances of recurrence are quite high. In addition, owing to its poorer prognosis and fewer targeted medicines and its propensity to spread beyond the breast, it is one of the most challenging breast cancers.
There is a very common myth among women that triple-negative breast cancer is a death sentence. However, it is not; read the following paragraphs to understand it better.
Triple-Negative Breast Cancer is a type of breast cancer in which breast cancer cells are negative for HER-2 (Hormone epidermal growth factor receptor 2; estrogen receptors (ER); and progesterone receptors (PR). These are the most common types of receptors that stimulate breast cancer growth. Which means breast cancer diagnosis is triple-negative for all these three factors. If a tumour cell lacks the necessary receptors, then targeted therapy and hormone therapy and the drugs therapy – the drugs that target HER-2 gene, estrogen and progesterone do not work.
Symptoms of triple-negative breast cancer
Triple-negative breast cancer’s signs and symptoms are the same as those of other types of breast cancer – including the following:
- A lump or mass in the breast
- Swelling of all or a part of the breast
- Breast pain or redness
- Nipple pain
- Nipple discharge
- Redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- A nipple that turns inward or has a discharge
Who is at higher risk of triple-negative breast cancer?
Though this type of breast cancer can be detected in anyone, oncologists and scientists have found that triple-negative breast cancer is more common in:
- People who are younger than age 50 (other types of breast cancers are common in people aged 50 and above).
- Hispanic women, African-American women – and less likely to be diagnosed in Asian and non-Hispanic white women.
- Majority of women (70%) with BRCA1 gene mutation
In a nutshell, 10 to 15% of cases of breast cancer fall under triple-negative breast cancer.
Diagnosis of Triple-negative breast cancer
An oncologist cannot tell you which type of cancer is it until they order tests. After medical and clinical examination and the results of a mammogram, if your doctor finds any abnormal area in your breast, then they do the biopsy.
The biopsied tissue is observed under a microscope by a pathologist to detect whether the cells are abnormal, cancerous or precancerous. Once, cancer is detected, your oncologist orders more tests, to know which type of cancer you have and what is its grade. If your cells don’t test positive for estrogen, progesterone, or HER2 receptors, then it’s diagnosed as triple-negative breast cancer. It might take a couple of weeks to get biopsy results. Your oncologist will also stage your cancer.
Treatment of Triple-negative breast cancer
The grading and staging of breast cancer influence the prognosis of breast cancer. After the diagnosis of breast cancer of this type, your physician will come out with the best treatment plan for you. The effective treatment options for triple-negative breast cancer include a combination of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. Even in the earlier stages, triple-negative breast cancer responds better to treatment.
What is the survival rate of triple-negative breast cancer?
The survival rate of cancer depends on many factors including the stage and grade of cancer, nature of cancer and the type of cancer – and also on early diagnosis and response to treatment. The survival rate (the five-year survival rate) for triple-negative breast cancer is around 70% – which is less as compared to other breast cancer types – the five-year survival rate for other types of breast cancers is around 90%.