Q. Are there any recent research findings or treatment developments for triple-negative breast cancer? With a high risk of recurrence, what is the recommended follow-up? What questions should I ask my doctor?
Triple-negative breast cancer has gained much attention over the past few years, but is still relatively new to researchers. Researchers have discovered that there are many variations of triple-negative breast cancer, and about 15-20% of breast cancer diagnoses in the U.S. are triple negative.
The treatment of triple-negative breast cancer does not vastly differ from other types of breast cancer, and would typically involve the options of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Some of the studies being performed at this time are on already existing chemotherapies; others are on newer medications including PARP inhibitors, angiogenesis drugs, and tyrosine kinase inhibitors.
Because much of triple-negative breast cancer is under investigation, participating in a clinical trial can be helpful to advance research. Depending upon the clinical trial, a patient can join at various stages of treatment and post treatment. The Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation has a partnership with EmergingMed that offers a clinical trial matching service in order to make your search faster and easier. You can call them at 877-769-4827 or visit www.emergingmed.com/networks/tnbcf to speak to a clinical trial navigator.
It is very important to discuss a follow-up care plan with your oncology team. During follow-up appointments, you should discuss with your doctor any changes in your body. Typically, a follow-up plan includes physical exams, mammograms, bone health tests, and blood work. Additonal follow-up may involve scans, but that is not as common. A follow-up care plan should best meets your needs and your doctor’s recommendations.
Questions to consider for follow-up visits include:
- How often are my follow-up appointments?
- Will the frequency of my appointments change over time?
- What will happen during these follow-up appointments?
- Is there anything I can do to improve my lifestyle that may directly impact my risk of recurrence (e.g., changes in nutrition, exercise, or stress levels)?
- What are common longer-term side effects of my cancer treatment, and how long might they last?
- Are there any resources to help pay for my medical bills?
- When is it medically safe to return to work, and should I perform light-duty tasks when going back?
- Where can I join a support group for post-treatment survivors?
CancerCare offers a variety of educational workshops and publications, along with supportive services for post-treatment survivors. We currently offer face-to face, telephone, and online support groups specifically for people who have completed treatment. View all of CancerCare’s post-treatment resources.
Q. I have heard about triple-negative breast cancer, but I really don't know what it is. Could you explain?
Triple-negative breast cancer is a subtype of breast cancer. Although breast cancer is often referred to as a single disease, there are many types of breast cancer tumors. In fact, breast cancer can be described as a family of diseases. All breast cancers start in the breast. So, they are alike in some ways, but also can be quite different from each other.
Subtypes of breast cancer are generally diagnosed based upon the presence, or lack of, three “receptors” known to fuel most breast cancers: estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). None of these receptors are found in women with triple-negative breast cancer. In other words, a triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis means that the tumor is estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative and HER2-negative, thus giving rise to the name “triple-negative breast cancer.” Because of its triple-negative status, triple-negative tumors generally do not respond to receptor-targeted treatments. Despite not having a targeted therapy as a treatment option, chemotherapy is an effective treatment. Research shows that triple-negative breast cancer may even respond better to chemotherapy than other types of breast cancer. Surgery and radiation therapy are also usually options.