Breast cancer isn’t a single disease. It’s made up of several subtypes.
One of these subtypes is known as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). TNBC doesn’t have receptors for the hormones estrogen or progesterone, and doesn’t overexpress the protein HER2/neu.
Therefore, TNBC doesn’t respond to the therapies that target these receptors, such as hormonal therapies or the targeted therapy Herceptin.
According to John’s Hopkins Breast Center, about 10 to 20 percent of those who receive a breast cancer diagnosis 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 may be discovered between mammograms. However, the fast growth rate means that standard chemotherapy can be effective at treating the cancer.
Recurrence is the return of breast cancer. It’s also sometimes called relapse. Breast cancer can return locally in breast or scar tissue, or distantly in other parts of the body, including bones or organs.
Cancer that reoccurs distantly is considered metastatic cancer. It may be treatable, but it’s usually not curable.
TNBC has a high recurrence rate, which is greatest within the first 3 years. However, there’s a sharp reduction in recurrence after 5 years. Therefore, there are no long post-therapy regimens.
People with early stage TNBC generally have a shorter treatment course compared to other subtypes. Women with early stage, slow-growing estrogen receptor-positive cancers are often in treatment for many years.
Five-year survival tends to be lower with TNBC than for some other types.
According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for localized breast cancer, which means it hasn’t spread beyond the breast, is 91 percent for TNBC and 99 percent for all breast cancers combined.
For cancers with regional spread to nearby structures or lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 65 percent for TNBC compared with 86 percent for all breast cancers.
A person’s survival rate depends on many factors, including 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 outlook is unique. Statistics apply to a group, not to an individual.
TNBC occurs most often in:
- younger women, before ages 40 or 50 years old
African American and Hispanic women
- those with the BRCA1 mutation
TNBC can be treated with:
Emerging treatments, such as poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) enzyme inhibitors are promising. If you receive a diagnosis of 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.
Here are some lifestyle tips to help you take charge of your health:
- Work toward keeping a regular eating schedule.
- Incorporate healthy foods into your diet as much as possible.
- Include regular exercise that’s complementary to what you’re able to do in your daily routine.
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.
For those diagnosed with TNBC, while there is a higher risk of recurrence in the first 5 years after diagnosis, there is a lower risk of recurrence after 5 years of being disease-free.