Breast cancer isn’t a single disease, but made up of several sub-types. One of these sub-types is known as triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). TNBC doesn’t grow in response to the hormones estrogen, progesterone, or HER2/neu. Therefore, TNBC doesn’t respond to hormonal therapies that target the receptors of these hormones. For this type of breast cancer, targeted treatments aren’t available as with other subtypes of breast cancer.
According to John’s Hopkins Breast Center, about 10 to 20 percent of those diagnosed with breast cancer have the triple negative subtype. TNBC grows rapidly. It also has a higher grade and tends to metastasize (spread).
Because the cancer grows quickly, it’s often discovered between mammograms. However, the fast growth rate means that standard chemotherapies have a good chance of inducing remission.
TNBC has a much better response to conventional chemotherapy than other breast cancer subtypes.
Recurrence, sometimes called relapse, is the return of breast cancer. Breast cancer can recur locally in breast or scar tissue, or distantly in other parts of the body including bones or organs. Cancer that occurs distantly is considered metastatic cancer. It is very difficult to stop, although it’s not untreatable.
TNBC characteristically has a high recurrence rate, which drops down sharply after five years. According to Contemporary Oncology, about 34 percent of women experience a distant recurrence with the average time of relapse being 2.6 years.
The risk of recurrence for TNBC is greatest within the first three years and declines rapidly after five years. Therefore, there are no long post-therapy regimens.
This suggests a hidden benefit: a shortened treatment course. Women with early-stage, slow-growing ER+ cancers are often in treatment for 10 years or more.
Five-year survival tends to be lower with TNBC than other breast cancer types. This means that there is a higher risk of death when the cancer does recur. According to BreastCancer.org, the five year survival rate for TNBC is around 77 percent versus 93 percent for other breast cancer types.
A person’s survival rate depends on many factors. This includes the stage and grade of the cancer, as well as your response to treatment. As with all cancers, it’s imperative to remember that each person’s prognosis is unique. Statistics apply to a group, not to an individual.
People at risk
TNBC occurs most often in:
- premenopausal African-American women
- women with an elevated hip-to-waist ratio
- women who have had fewer children
- women who haven’t breastfed, or breastfed for shortened lengths of time
- younger women, before age 40 or 50
- those with the BRCA 1 mutation
TNBC can be treated with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Emerging treatments such as poly polymerase (PARP) enzyme inhibitors are promising. If you’re diagnosed with TNBC, you can also look into clinical trials for more treatment options.
The good news is that scientists are working hard to find more and better ways to treat TNBC.
It’s important to continue with a regular appointment schedule. Take charge of your health by eating properly and exercising. Meditation may also help you find emotional balance during this time.
A support group or therapy can help quell fears and provide you with tools to manage feelings of uncertainty.
Once the five years are over, TNBC cancer rarely relapses, and a person can feel confident that they’ve been victorious over their cancer.