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Triple negative early breast cancer

What is triple negative early breast cancer? 

Triple negative breast cancer is a type of breast cancer that does not have any of the three receptors commonly found on breast cancer cells – the oestrogen, progesterone and HER2 receptors. Around 15% of early breast cancers are triple negative. 

Triple negative breast cancer generally responds well to chemotherapy.  Five years after diagnosis, people with triple negative breast cancer are no more likely to experience a recurrence of their breast cancer than people with other types of breast cancer. In the longer term (over 10 years), a recurrence is less likely with triple negative breast cancer. 

Treatment for triple negative early breast cancer 

Treatment for triple negative early breast cancer may involve: 

As triple negative breast cancer is usually very responsive to chemotherapy, your medical oncologist will most likely develop a chemotherapy treatment plan for you. This will take into account your own individual needs and preferences. 

 Chemotherapy for triple negative breast cancer is often given before surgery. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. There are a number of benefits in having chemotherapy before surgery. 

  • You can see if the chemotherapy is working (if the tumour shrinks). 
  • You may be able to have breast conserving surgery instead of mastectomy if the tumour shrinks enough. 
  • It gives you time to have genetic testing done to determine if you have an inherited gene mutation – if the test comes back positive it may affect your decision around what type of surgery to have.  

Treatment for triple negative breast cancer may also include radiotherapy after surgery, especially if you have breast conserving surgery.

You may be offered immunotherapy treatment through a clinical trial, although there are strict eligibility criteria. You can talk to your medical oncologist about any clinical trials that may be suitable for you.

Risk factors for triple negative early breast cancer 

Anyone can get triple negative breast cancer, however there are some things that increase a person’s risk. 

Having an inherited BRCA mutation 

Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These genes normally prevent cancers from developing. However if there is a fault, called a mutation, in one of these genes, it can increase a person’s risk of developing breast cancer and other cancers including ovarian cancer and prostate cancer in men. These gene mutations can be passed down through families. 

About 5-10% of all people diagnosed with breast cancer have an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation 

A BRCA1 mutation is associated with a higher risk for triple negative breast cancer. Not all breast cancers caused by BRCA mutations are triple negative, however, and not all triple negative breast cancers are caused by inherited BRCA mutations. 

BRCA2 mutations are more likely to be present in oestrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer. 

If you have a strong family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer (three or more people on the same side of the family), it is possible that you and your relatives could carry a BRCA mutation. For more information on breast cancer and family history, visit the breast cancer in the family  section of this website. 

Being premenopausal 

Premenopausal women  have a higher rate of triple negative breast cancer than postmenopausal women. Scientists do not yet understand why this is the case, however research is currently underway in this area. 

Getting support  

There are many different types of breast cancer and each one is treated differently. As triple negative breast cancer is a less common form of breast cancer, some people find it difficult to explain their treatment options to others. Talking to your treating team for advice and support can be very helpful. 

Some people find the support of others who have triple negative breast cancer helpful, as they share similar experiences. Our online network may help you connect with others in the same situation. You can access the online network  here. 

Research into triple negative early breast cancer 

Research has identified a number of different sub-types of triple negative breast cancer, providing opportunities for new treatments that target these sub-types to be developed. 

Targeted treatments are currently being investigated using PARP inhibitors for BRCA related cancers, and PI3K/AKT inhibitors and immunotherapy drugs for other sub-types.  

More information 

BCNA’s My Journey 

My Journey is where you go to get all your breast cancer information about your diagnosis in one place. Whether you have early breast cancer, DCIS or metastatic breast cancer, My Journey provides you with the latest information tailored to suit your situation. You can access this information through My Journey via an app or web browser at www.myjourney.org.au 

BCNA Helpline 

Call BCNA’s Member Support team 1800 500 258 for information, support, resources and for a referral on to the services you need.