Triple Negative Breast Cancer is rare and affects approximately one in every 100,000 women annually. It accounts for approximately 15% of all invasive breast cancers. One of three types of breast cancer is triple-negative breast cancer. It is referred to as triple negative because it lacks three markers associated with other types of breast cancer and is important for prognosis and treatment. It is one of the more difficult breast cancers to treat.
On the other hand, researchers are progressing steadily toward more effective treatments. Overall, 77% of women with triple-negative breast cancer survive five years after being diagnosed.
Subtypes of Breast Cancers
Your breast cancer subtype is one factor that healthcare providers consider when deciding how to treat your cancer. This is due to the fact that not all cancer treatments are effective for all breast cancer subtypes.
Providers examine your cancer cells to determine subtypes. They specifically look for molecules on the surfaces of your cells. These molecules, known as receptors, are designed so that only specific substances can cling to them and begin influencing what your cells do.
Breast cancer cells have estrogen and progesterone receptors. Understanding whether your breast cancer cells have receptors and whether they contain hormones assists providers in determining how your breast cancer may spread and which treatment may be most effective. Her-2 neu is another type of breast cancer that has a different receptor. This receptor makes cells more active, but it also allows doctors to treat cancer with drugs that target her-2 proteins. If your breast cancer lacks her-2 neu and hormone receptors, it is referred to as triple negative.
Symptoms and Signs of Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC)
TNBC symptoms are similar to those of other types of breast cancer. Furthermore, many breast cancer symptoms are similar to those of other, less serious conditions. That is, having certain symptoms does not imply that you have breast cancer. Among the possible breast cancer symptoms are:
- A new mass or lump.
- Breast swelling that affects all or part of the breast.
- Skin with dimples.
- Pain in the breasts or nipples.
- Nipple retraction occurs when the nipple turns inward.
- Dry, flaking, thickened, or red nipple or breast skin.
- Breast milk-free nipple discharge.
- Lymph nodes that are swollen. This symptom happens when breast cancer spreads to the lymph nodes under your arm or near your collarbone.
Diagnosing Triple Negative Breast Cancer
A mammogram may be the first step in evaluating a suspicious mass or lump in your breast. Healthcare providers may perform a biopsy to remove breast tissue based on what they learn. The cells in the tissues are then examined to determine the cancer subtype. Identifying the cancer subtype is part of the staging process, which determines how your cancer will be treated.
Before treatment, providers may use the following tests to determine the size of your tumor and whether it has spread, or after treatment to monitor response to treatment:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography (CAT) scan
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
Some Common Treatments for Triple Negative Breast Cancer
TNBC treatments are making significant progress thanks to the efforts of healthcare providers and researchers. Recent clinical trials are putting new drug combinations and approach to existing treatments to the test. Existing treatments include:
- Chemotherapy: Your provider may combine chemotherapy and surgery, with chemotherapy used before surgery to shrink your tumor or after surgery to kill cancer cells throughout your body.
- Surgery could include a lumpectomy to remove a single lump or a mastectomy to remove an entire breast. A sentinel node biopsy or axillary node surgery is then performed to look for signs that your breast cancer has spread to your lymph nodes.
- Radiation therapy: Following surgery, radiation therapy reduces the likelihood that your cancer will return or recur.
- Immunotherapy stimulates your immune system to produce more cancer-fighting cells or to assist healthy cells in identifying and attacking cancer cells. To shrink the tumor before surgery, immunotherapy can be combined with chemotherapy. You may also receive immunotherapy and post-surgery radiation therapy for about a year after your surgery.
How to Prevent Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Researchers do not know all of the risk factors for triple-negative breast cancer. The BRAC1 gene mutation has been identified as one possible cause of triple negative breast cancer. Unfortunately, you cannot prevent BRAC1 because this gene mutation is inherited from your parents. However, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent breast cancer, including TNBC:
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Regular exercise is essential.
- Understand your family’s medical history.
- Keep an eye on your breast health. According to studies, 95% of women with breast cancer who were treated before it spread were alive four years later.
- If you have a family history of breast, ovarian, pancreatic, or prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about genetic testing for the BRCA gene. If you have the BRCA gene, you can take precautions to avoid breast cancer.
The Final Words
One of the more difficult breast cancers to treat is triple negative breast cancer. You may be discouraged after reading about triple negative breast cancer. However, there are several highly effective treatments for triple negative breast cancer, such as immunotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
Every day, researchers learn something new about this rare cancer. Your power comes from their knowledge. If you’re concerned that you’re not getting the whole picture of your cancer, ask your doctor to walk you through your diagnosis and treatment options.