For years, triple negative breast cancer has been viewed as aggressive with little hope of treatment, but that idea seems to be changing among experts as more promising treatment options develop.
“I would say the future is bright for triple negative breast cancer,” said Dr. Erica Mayer, medical oncologist and senior physician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “We now have new treatment strategies that we did not have available before that definitely appear to benefit patients with triple negative disease.”
Triple negative breast cancer is the smallest category of breast cancer groups, accounting for only about 10 to 15% of all breast cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. Mayer says that doesn’t mean it’s rare. “Because breast cancer is a very common cancer, tens of thousands of people are diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer each year. “
Triple negative disease is a unique class of breast cancer because it lacks receptors that drug therapies can target for treatment. Breast cancer cells can have three different types of receptors – estrogen, progesterone, and a protein called HER2 – each of which looks like the lock on a house’s front door. The keys to these locks are the different hormonal or drug therapies that can access and kill cancer cells. But triple negative breast cancer does not have all three types of receptors, hence its name. This makes it more difficult to treat than other types of breast cancer.
Although it lacks these receptors, triple negative breast cancer still has the same symptoms as other types. Some of these symptoms are a new lump or lump in the breast or armpit, dimpling of the breast skin, abnormal discharge from the nipple, or even the nipple turning inward.
The risk factors for triple negative breast cancer are also the same as other types of breast cancer. Experts say the risk of breast cancer increases with age, obesity, smoking, alcohol, and a personal or family history of breast cancer. Although not a definitive risk factor, triple negative breast cancer is more commonly seen in black and Hispanic women, as well as in women under the age of 50; but experts do not understand why this is the case.
“Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a young age, so this is how you might get this association, but it is not necessarily causal,” said Dr. Kimberly Lee, medical oncologist. in the Department of Breast Oncology at Moffitt Cancer. Central Tampa, Florida. “There is no simple answer to this.”
Although eliminating these risk factors completely doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get breast cancer, it can help reduce your risk. “Decreasing these risk factors as much as possible will decrease your risk,” Lee said. “Again, it’s not going to zero.”
New therapies for triple negative breast cancer
Triple negative can be a very treatable and potentially curable type of breast cancer, experts say, especially with recent advances in research. Treatment for triple negative breast cancer involves both local therapies, such as surgery and radiation therapy, and may also include systemic therapies, such as chemotherapy. Thanks to research in recent years, another class of drugs is available, known as immunotherapy, where the drugs help stimulate the immune system to destroy cancer cells. This class of drugs is used with chemotherapy and is used depending on factors, such as the stage of the cancer.
New findings, such as immunotherapy, are starting to change previous beliefs that triple negative breast cancer is incurable, experts say.
“We are incredibly happy to see that offering immunotherapy before surgery not only helps kill cancer cells better, but also appears to help prevent cancer from coming back, which can help people live longer,” said Mayer. “So the introduction of immunotherapy in the treatment of triple negative breast cancer can be a game changer.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but experts say it’s important to be aware of any changes in your breasts and get screened year round.
Experts recommend mammograms from the age of 40. How often and when to start screening depends on your own individual risk, so it is important to consult a healthcare practitioner to determine your risk and when to start screening. In the meantime, everyone should be aware of any changes in symptoms in their breasts.
“It’s also important to be aware of your body and notice any changes, reporting it to your doctor if it occurs,” Mayer said.
Finally, experts say it is very important to know your family history, which could influence your own risk of breast cancer. “For a long time, cancer was taboo and people didn’t talk about it,” Lee said. “But your family history is important, because again, it could put you at higher risk.”
Triple negative breast cancer is becoming more and more treatable as new discoveries are made, giving hope to experts and people living with the disease.
“I meet people every day and they think it’s the end that we don’t have treatment, that we can’t help them and as an oncologist it doesn’t,” he said. said Lee. “There is hope.”
Alexis E. Carrington, MD is an associate producer in the ABC News medical unit and a growing dermatology resident at George Washington University.
New treatments bring hope to people with triple-negative breast cancer, which originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com