It’s also not as terrible as the Internet searches would have you believe. Here’s the lowdown:
- It’s a breast cancer that has no hormone receptors, and therefore currently no targeted treatment.
- It’s a rarer type – 15-20% of breast cancers are triple negative.
- It’s more common in African-American and Latina women. Diagnosis and treatment equity are a real need.
- It has a “worse prognosis,” but if you are a newly diagnosed TNBC (triple negative breast cancer) sister reading this, know that it is a hotbed of research, and new treatments are coming out all the time. Old statistics are not your friend. There is hope.
- It is aggressive and tends to spread/grow more quickly than the other types.
- It has a higher rate of recurrence, mostly within the first three years.
- It tends to be higher grade (more quickly and aggressively proliferative) and is also discovered at later stages.
- Due to its high recurrence rate, most treatments tend to include chemotherapy. Good news: Chemotherapy tends to work very well for TNBC.
- Like all other cancers, it stinks.
What Triple Negative Breast Cancer is Not:
- A death sentence.
- A slow moving, hormone-receptor positive breast cancer for which targeted treatments like Tamoxifen are available. (Although: some TNBC tumors have slight estrogen-receptor positivity, and so at times TNBC patients are prescribed Tamoxifen.)
In talking about this type of breast cancer in my support group and in the world at large, I often find myself having to place TNBC on a hierarchy of ease-of-treatability types. This is understandable. The world of treatment changes constantly, and clinical trials and subtypes and genomic testing are – happily – complicating and more specifically targeting treatments to every woman’s benefit. Yet: TNBC almost always comes out the worst, is still, in some circles, considered the diagnosis to deliver with a sigh and a pause, and Google/goggle/ogle/oogle aka do not Google will only offer doom. Don’t do it.
So, if you have it, I welcome you with open arms to this most unexpected club. We’re a rarer sort, part of the “danger” side of breast cancer. I think of us as the Austin Powers version:
Except we have better teeth.