All You Need to know about Triple Negative Breast Cancer

By Dr. Meenu Walia in Medical Oncology , Cancer Care / Oncology

Nov 08 , 2020 | 3 min read

Breast cancer is the leading cause of untimely deaths in women around the world. The cases of women with breast cancer are rising rapidly every year, and this is no less than a cause of worry. There is no doubt that a breast cancer diagnosis can shake anyone’s spirit. However, timely diagnosis can indeed cure a person of breast cancer.

What is Breast Cancer?

Dr. Meenu Walia, Director-Medical Oncology & Haematology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj says, Breast cancer, as the name implies, is cancer that develops in the breast. The cells and tissues of the breast get affected causing a mass or lump inside the breast. Nipples can retract, skin colour can change, and there is usually redness or thickness of the breast skin. Even though most people associate breast cancer with women as it is highly prevalent in them, but it can also affect men.

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer is often stated as a single condition. However, there are many subtypes of breast cancer. All tumours inside the breast are tested for estrogen, progesterone and HER2 receptors. In case the results are positive from the tests, it means there are receptors present inside a tumour. In case of negative results, it means there are none or few receptors inside a tumour.

All the tumours with positive results are treated with their respective therapies. For example, tumours with estrogen or progesterone positive receptor are treated with hormone therapy, and HER2 positive is treated with anti-HER2 targeted therapies.

What is Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?

Before understanding Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), it is important to know the three major types of receptors present in breast cancer.

  • Estrogen receptors
  • Progesterone receptors
  • HER-2-Neu receptors
So, TNBC refers to cancer that has not tested positive for any of the three above mentioned types. It is the least common type of breast cancer and the hardest to treat since there are no targeted therapies. Furthermore, it is far more likely to spread and has a higher recurrence rate.

What are the Risk Factors for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?

There are many risk factors that doctors have associated with TNBC- some of them are as follows:

  1. Genetics: Individuals (both men and women) with mutated genes carry a higher risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer. A first-degree relative with TNBC also increases the chance of developing this type of breast cancer.

  2. Obesity and Sedentary Lifestyle: Obese people with a high BMI are at an elevated risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer. Also, people who have a sedentary lifestyle and are seldom active also carry a higher risk.

  3. Age: Premenopausal women are more likely to develop triple-negative breast cancer than postmenopausal women.

  4. Pregnancy: According to studies, pregnancy plays a role in the risk of triple-negative breast cancer. Women who have been pregnant and had children are at a higher risk of developing TNBC than those who have never been pregnant.

Diagnosis of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

As with other subtypes of breast cancer, TNBC is usually diagnosed with a lump or mass in the breast. However, a routine checkup may also reveal if an individual may be carrying a tumour in the breasts. If doctors suspect a growth, a sample of tissue is taken from a tumour by inserting a needle from the lump. The sample of the tissue is then sent to a lab for testing and basis the report the tissue is termed as benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). In case the tumour is malignant, the report will also tell the subtype of breast cancer.

Treatment of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

The treatment options for TNBC are limited when compared to other subtypes of breast cancers. Hormone therapy is not used as a treatment option as triple-negative breast cancer remains unaffected by hormones. 

  1. Surgery: In case of surgery, doctors will remove the breasts, either partially or entirely. It is done to remove as much cancer cells as feasible.

  2. Chemotherapy: Triple-negative breast cancer responds well to chemotherapy. When chemotherapy is given before surgery, it is called neoadjuvant surgery as it can shrink a tumour enough for a lumpectomy (breast-conserving surgery).

  3. Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses X-rays to target the tumour site to kill the cancer cells precisely. It works well in combination with chemotherapy.

Early diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer can increase the chances of survival. Since it is the least common type of breast cancer, it is important to talk about it with your doctor. We at Max Healthcare, have a panel of renowned doctors who have years of expertise in treating several breast cancer surgery cases in India.