Triple-negative breast cancer tests negative for three factors – the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and a protein, HER2. These are important factors that drive other forms of the disease. This means that a person with triple-negative breast cancer tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein.
The cancer cells in the breast of a triple negative diagnosed person don’t have receptors for estrogen or progesterone and also don’t make too much amount of the HER2 protein. Therefore, the cells test negative for all the 3 tests.
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for almost 10-15% of all types of breast cancers. Triple-negative breast cancer is different from other types of invasive breast cancer in terms that it grows and spreads faster, do not have as many treatment options, and a severe prognosis of the disease.
The common symptoms of triple-negative breast cancer are usually the same as those of other breast cancer types. This typically includes a lump or mass in the breast, pain or redness in the breast, an inverted nipple or fluid discharge from the nipple.
Although, doctors aren’t sure what makes a woman more susceptible to get triple-negative breast cancer, but there are certain risk factors that can be considered. This type of cancer has been known to only affects up to 20% of those who have breast cancer.
It has been observed that such cancers tend to be found more commonly in women younger than age 40, especially in African-American, or those who have a BRCA1 mutation.
Diagnosis of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
Screening for breast cancer has been prevalent in the past decades. There are certain ways that helps a woman self examine for breast cancer. This may include checking for lumps in the breast and armpit as well as checking the nipple for any abnormality and discharge.
However, only the tests can confirm the type of breast cancer and its stage. The medical team will plan the treatment based on the diagnostic results.
Biopsy is one of confirmatory tests that gives definitive results about the type of breast cancer. In this, the doctor cuts out a small sample of the tissue in the area of the breast that isn’t normal. The cells are then observed under the microscope and a pathologist conducts other tests.
The doctor will assess if the structure of the cells are normal, precancerous, or cancerous. In case of cancer, more tests are performed to determine out the exact type of breast cancer.
If the sample doesn’t test positive for estrogen, progesterone, or HER2 receptors, then the diagnosis is triple-negative breast cancer. The doctor will also determine the stage of the cancer which will indicate how much of the cancer has spread and is it malignant – spreading to other parts of the body.
The medical team designs the treatment protocol on the basis of the type of breast cancer and the stage of the cancer. It is customized for different patients as everybody’s body reacts differently.
As hormones aren’t contributing to the growth of the cancer, it is unlikely to respond to medicines of hormonal therapy, including tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors. Patients with triple-negative breast cancer also do not respond well to medicines that target the HER2 protein.
Breast cancer treatment in India is a one-stop solution for safe, effective and cost-effective treatment. The hospitals offer comprehensive medical packages with affordable prices. This makes India an affordable choice for international patient, with no compromise of the quality of patient care services.
Treatment options for Triple-negative breast cancer
Patients are first recommended for a surgery to remove the cancer from the breast. There are different types of breast cancer surgery depending on the amount of tissue removed. When the triple-negative breast cancer is aggressive, mastectomy can be the best option.
In this surgery, the lump from the breast is removed along with nearby lymph nodes (the small oval-shaped organs that are part of the immune system). This is done to see if the cancer has spread. The surgery may take over an hour. The patient usually spend some time at the hospital and usually there is no need to stay overnight.
This is a more radical approach which involves the removal of the breast completely along with nearby lymph nodes. The doctor may also look if the cancer has spread. The woman can choose to have breast reconstruction surgery during the same surgery to restore the shape and appearance of the breast.
Surgery can also be combined or followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy to eradicate all cancer cells.
This involves use of a medicine or a combination of drugs that kills cancer cells. This is most likely the first thing the doctor suggests. It can be given through a needle into a vein or in the form of a pill. When the cancer is diagnosed early, it may respond better to chemo. The chemotherapy can be done in one of three ways: Neoadjuvant therapy, which is chemo before surgery to shrink the tumor; Adjuvant therapy, chemo is used after surgery; and Immunotherapy, which is used along with chemo when the cancer has spread and surgery is not an option.
In this, high dose radiation is used, most likely after surgery, to kill any cancer cells remaining in the affected area. Radiation aims to stop the cancer from recurring and is commonly done after a lumpectomy.
About the Author
Vanshika Rawat is an experienced content developer. She is very knowledgeable in the field of science and healthcare and has worked under brilliant scientists during her higher education. Vanshika obtained her degrees in Masters in Science and Bachelors in Science (Microbiology with Hons.) from renowned institutions – Panjab University and University of Delhi.
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