Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) is a subtype of breast cancer. It derives the term “triple negative” due to the absence of three common receptors on or within the cancerous cells: estrogen, progesterone, and herceptin, a protein produced by a gene called HER-2 and also associated with breast cancer. Most types of breast cancers have receptors that will respond to one or more of those three different proteins, which doesn’t happen with triple negative breast cancer.
These characteristics can make TNBC more aggressive and more difficult to treat than other cancer forms. There are no specific therapies for TNBC and the response to treatments, like surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy varies from patient to patient.
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Who’s more likely to be diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer?
Triple Negative Breast Cancer affects mostly women, and it is more likely to occur on young women (under 40 years old), African Americans, Hispanics, and people with a BRCA1 gene mutation.
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The familial risk of having this or other forms of breast cancer depends on the amount of relatives affected by cancer, how old the patient is when the diagnose is made, and if there’s an history of ovarian cancer in the family, the rare case of men with breast cancer, or cases of breast cancer with special features — such as triple negative breast cancer.
Usually, triple negative breast cancer is an aggressive tumor compared to other breast cancers, in that it tends to grow more quickly and is less likely to be detected at an annual mammogram. This kind of breast cancer is more likely to spread earlier to other parts of the body and generate metastasis. Moreover, it seems to come back or recur, more often than other subtypes of breast cancer. The prognosis in TNBC cases can be worse than breast cancers that are hormone receptor positive. The reason for this lies in the lack of specific treatments for this type of breast cancer.
It’s konwn that TNBC gets a worse prognosis than other forms of breast cancer. Research has showed that women with triple negative breast cancer are almost 3 times more likely to die from their cancer than women with the most common forms of breast cancer. According to the same study, published in 2012, women with TNBC are 8.3 times more likely to die in the first two years of diagnosis than those with other forms of breast cancer. Cancer relapses are more frequent and occur earlier in TNCB patients.
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Triple Negative Breast Cancer treatment options
Treatment options for this kind of breast cancer are limited and it can be especially aggressive and difficult to treat. The lack of hormonal receptors makes hormonal therapy (like tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors) useless. Although there’s no specific therapy, women with breast cancer triple negative can be treated successfully, with early detection of the disease being an important factor.
Chemotherapy can be an effective treatment. In fact, this subtype of breast cancer may respond better to chemotherapy in earlier stages than other kinds of cancer. Surgery and radiotherapy are also commonly used.
The key to fight TNBC is, like all breast cancers, early detection. The sooner the diagnosis is confirmed and the therapy begins the better for the patient. To catch triple negative breast cancer at the earliest possible stage is crucial to do monthly breast self-exams and annual clinical breast exams or mammograms.
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