I was recently reading this article about triple negative breast cancer. It is encouraging to see the continued efforts to find better treatments and hopefully many more long term survivors.

This is among the first clinical trials that include immunotherapy in the treatment of early stage TNBC. Immunotherapies represent a new class of drugs that increase the anti-cancer activity of immune cells residing in cancer tissues. Chemotherapy kills some cancer cells and damages many more, but these damaged cells often survive and cause recurrence of the cancer months or years later

What is triple negative breast cancer?

Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) occurs when breast cancer cells test negative (pathology report) for estrogen receptors (ER-), progesterone receptors (PR-), and HER2 (HER2-).

These results indicate the growth of the cancer is not supported by the hormones estrogen and progesterone.  Hormonal therapy, often used in the treatment of breast cancer, as well as therapies that target HER2 receptors, are not helpful with this type of breast cancer (TNBC),  since it does not respond to such treatment.

About 10 to 20% of breast cancers are shown to be TNBC. There is an intense ongoing effort for researchers to find new treatment strategies to treat this type of breast cancer.

Why is it so difficult to treat?

As mentioned above, receptors of breast cancer cells are the target for treating breast cancer successfully. Receptors are proteins found inside and on the surface of cells. They receive messages from substances in the bloodstream and tell the cells what to do. In the case of healthy breast cells, messages are received from the hormones estrogen and progesterone. In about 20-30% of breast cancers, another receptor HER2 – there are too many of the receptors. In normal, healthy breast cells, HER2 regulates the growth and division of cells, thus having too many cause the breast cancer cells to grow and divide too quickly.

Additionally, TNBC tends to be more aggressive that other types of breast cancer. It also tends to be a high grade than other types. What this means is, the higher the grade, the less the cancer cells resemble normal, healthy breast cells. Lastly, TNBC is a cell type called “basal-like” – resemble the cells that line the breast ducts and basal-like cancers tend to be more aggressive and higher grade.

Researchers have found that TNBC is more likely to affect:

  • Younger people
  • African-American and Hispanic women
  • People with a gene mutation

What does the future look like for triple negative breast cancer?

Researchers are working to find the the best approaches in treating TNBC. As indicated in the attached article, targeted therapies are looking promising, but the research is at an early stage.