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Triple Negative Breast Cancer: Get the Facts About Diagnosis and Treatment

Written by Melba Danny Weiss

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The term “breast cancer” makes it sound as if all cancers that strike the breast are the same. But that’s an oversimplification. The truth is, there are many different types of breast cancer, as well as a variety  of treatments and potential outcomes.

Triple negative breast cancer is one type you may hear about. “Triple negative breast cancer is an aggressive type of breast cancer that accounts for 10 to 20% of all breast cancers,” said Lida Mina, MD, co-director of the comprehensive breast program at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Arizona.

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It’s called “triple negative” because this type of breast cancer doesn’t fuel or feed on three components that are found in many other types of breast cancer:

  • Estrogen
  • Progesterone
  • HER2 protein

Triple negative breast cancer is treated differently

Because these cancers don’t have estrogen, progesterone, or HER2 receptors, some common treatment options won’t be effective. “This type of cancer is usually not treated with oral pills, and estrogen or hormonal blockers do not work,” Dr. Mina said. They don’t respond to hormonal therapy because they don’t contain estrogen or progesterone receptors. Treatments that are targeted at HER2 receptors aren’t an option, either.


But there are other options for women with triple negative breast cancer. “This disease is aggressive but still treatable,” Dr. Mina said. “Chemotherapy is the mainstay of treatment.” And according to some reports people with triple negative breast cancer tend to respond better to chemotherapy than people with other types of breast cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Immunotherapy is another treatment option for women with triple negative breast cancer. Immunotherapy treatments spur the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. “Immunotherapy is also now approved and is making significant differences in the lives of patients with triple negative disease,” Dr. Mina said.

Who’s at risk for triple negative breast cancer?

Triple negative breast cancer strikes younger and Black and African American women most often and is more common in Hispanic women than in white women. It is also more common in women who have an inherited gene mutation such as BRCA1.

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The bottom line

Triple negative breast cancer doesn’t respond to some of the go-to treatment options for other types of breast cancer. But chemotherapy and promising new treatment options bring hope. Talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer and the screening schedule that can help you spot any signs of cancer early.

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