Key Points about Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
- Hormones do not fuel triple-negative breast cancer and, therefore, cannot be treated with hormone therapy.
- Cases of triple-negative breast cancer comprise 10 to 20 percent of all breast cancer cases.
- Doctors use biopsy, imaging tests and physical exam to diagnose triple-negative breast cancer.
- Treatment for triple-negative breast cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
The hormones estrogen and progesterone fuel many types of breast cancer. Triple-negative breast cancer is a type of breast cancer that tests negative for these hormones. Due to this, triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to hormone treatment used to treat many types of breast cancer. Oncologists use other treatments to treat this type of breast cancer. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of all breast cancers are triple-negative breast cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancer causes
Mutations (changes) to the DNA of breast cells cause triple-negative breast cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancer risk factors
The following factors may increase your risk for developing triple-negative breast cancer:
- Being African-American or Hispanic
- Being female
- Being under the age of 50
- Having the BRCA1 gene mutation
Triple-negative breast cancer symptoms
The signs and symptoms of triple-negative breast cancer are often similar to those of other types of breast cancer and can include:
- A lump or mass on the breast that can be felt
- Change in the appearance of one or both nipples, such as skin that is peeling or flaky
- Change in the shape or size of one or both breasts
- Changes in the skin of the breast, such as redness or swelling
- Feeling of hardness in the breast
- Itchiness in the breast
- Pain in the breast
- Unusual nipple discharge
- Warmth or irritation in the breast
Triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis
Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:
- Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3-D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine if there is any cancer present.
- Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for abnormalities.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to look for any areas that could indicate cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancer treatment
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of your triple-negative breast cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Surgery – in most cases, your doctor will recommend a surgical procedure to remove the cancerous area. Types of surgery include lumpectomy (removal of the cancerous cells and a margin of healthy tissue) and mastectomy (removal of an entire breast). Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible. In some cases, you may opt to undergo reconstructive surgery following surgery to treat breast cancer.
- Chemotherapy – you may need to undergo chemotherapy to destroy any microscopic cancerous cells that might be present. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
- Immunotherapy – in this type of treatment, medications trigger the body’s immune system to fight the cancer.
- Radiation therapy – this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any microscopic cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.