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Your Healthy Family: What is triple negative breast cancer?

Posted at 10:08 AM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 13:42:13-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are sharing patient stories, talking about different kinds of cancers, and sharing information about the importance of mammograms.

I caught up with Dr. Jason Allen, a radiologist and Medical Director for Breast Imaging for UCHealth in Colorado Springs, to learn about a rare form of cancer – triple-negative breast cancer - and who is most at risk for it.

Dr. Allen says, “Triple-negative disease is more common in non-white patients or patients of Hispanic or African American backgrounds.”

The American Cancer Society says Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for about 10-15% of all breast cancers and tend to be more common in women younger than age 40, who have a BRCA1 mutation.

The challenge of triple-negative breast cancer is in the name, Dr. Allen further explained. “Triple-negative refers to three things. The ER, PR, and HER2 status. ER means estrogen receptor-negative, meaning the tumor does not have receptors that will react to hormones such as estrogen. PR means progesterone receptor-negative so it doesn't react to progesterone, and HER2 negative is a different biomarker.”

Dr. Allen says that because doctors have less treatment options available, it is the biggest challenge with triple-negative disease. “We can't use medications that will block hormones that would normally feed the tumor. For the HER2 (biomarker) there is a specific medication that's designed to help act on tumors that are HER2 positive, but not negative. So the triple-negative status of the disease makes it more difficult to treat and cure.”

Remember, experts stress the key to breast cancer is catching it as early as possible. Doctors say make sure you're doing your self-exams at home and annual mammograms when appropriate and if you notice anything out of place see a doctor.

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