Do we really need any more breast cancer “awareness?” Surely we’re all aware of the disease, but please hang in there with me. If you take nothing else away from this posting, take this: breast cancer is not a single disease. There are many subtypes of breast cancer, each with its own risk factors, treatments, and prognosis.
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for about 15-20 percent of total breast cancer cases. According to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, there’s a TNBC diagnosis every half hour in the United States, but treatment and awareness of this subtype are lagging behind. That’s why the organization has designated March 3, 2014 as the second annual Triple Negative Breast Cancer Day.
6 Things to Know About Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
1. Breast cancer is not one disease. “Triple-negative” is just one of many forms of breast cancer.
2. TNBC tests negative for three receptors that fuel breast cancer: estrogen, progesterone, and HER2.
3. There have been many advances in the treatment of breast cancer due to receptor-targeting therapies. However, there are no targeted treatments for TNBC.
4. According to Susan G. Komen, TNBC is less likely to be discovered on a mammogram than other types of breast cancer.
5. TNBC is usually more aggressive than other types. It is more likely to recur in the first five years and the five-year survival rate is lower than that of other breast cancers.
6. Anyone can get TNBC. However, it tends to strike younger women, women with BRCA1 mutations, and women of African, Latina, or Caribbean descent. Asian and non-Hispanic white women are less likely to develop TNBC, according to BreastCancer.org.
Treating Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
Early diagnosis and treatment are key to a good outcome. Receptor-targeting therapies used to treat breast cancer in the longer term are not effective in the treatment of TNBC. TNBC generally responds well to chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Even better news is that after five years, the risk of recurrence falls to a rate similar to that of other types of breast cancer. As with all cancers, other factors, like stage at diagnosis, also affect prognosis.
“I was grateful to learn that chemo before surgery was the best option for me,” said TNBC survivor Courtney Kikol Finder. “One reason is that my doctors were able to tell I had a complete pathological response to chemo. And I was able to avoid radiation.”
TNBC Survivors Focusing on the Positives
As difficult as the experience has been, Ms. Finder tells Care2, “It gave our family the gift of appreciating life and living it more fully every day.”
TNBC survivor Melissa Paskvan says, “I have met many amazing TNBC survivors throughout my journey that I consider as my extended family. We TNBC sisters, we ‘get it.’ We are a unique Sisterhood bonded by our uncommon disease and I embrace it.”
Hope for the Future
Ms. Paskvan continues, “I keep fighting alongside those who are still fighting, those who are too weak to fight, and for those who can no longer fight. My fight is not over until all of my sisters are safe. Never lose sight of hope, hope to find our targeted therapy and hope for more tomorrows.”
Before my diagnosis just over three years ago, I’d never heard the term “triple-negative breast cancer.” I had no idea that some types of breast cancer could be so much more aggressive than others, or that some lacked targeted treatment.
Along with Courtney and Melissa, I’m living a full life beyond TNBC, but we have a common goal — to share what we’ve learned and to help others along the way. It’s Triple Negative Breast Cancer Day. Please help us spread the word.
How Much Does Family History Affect Breast Cancer Risk?
Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series on Care2
“Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer”