Triple-negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer that tends to grow and spread more quickly than other types of breast cancer. Since triple-negative breast cancer is such a fast-growing form of the disease, overall survival rates tend to be lower as compared to other forms of the disease.
It is estimated that approximately 15 to 20 percent of all breast cancers are classified as triple-negative, meaning that these particular breast cancer cells lack both estrogen and progesterone receptors and do not overexpress the HER-2 protein like other breast cancers. As such, hormone therapies such as tamoxifen and therapies that target the HER-2 protein such as Herceptin (trastuzumab) are not effective in treating triple-negative breast cancer.
While the decision to follow a particular treatment regimen depends largely on the stage of the cancer at diagnosis, treatment for triple-negative breast cancer usually consists of chemotherapy and one or more of the following treatment options:
Chemotherapy has been shown to be the most effective treatment option for triple-negative breast cancer because of the way it works in killing the rapidly dividing cancer cells. The most common chemotherapy regimen used includes a combination of Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), which is commonly referred to as “AC.” Some patients also are treated with a third drug -- either fluorouracil (5-FU), Taxol (paclitaxel) or Taxotere (docetaxel) --along with AC chemotherapy. Other patients may be treated with Ellence (epirubicin) instead of the Adriamycin, which is then called an “EC” regimen.
Depending on where the cancer is located in the breast and how large in size it is doctors may decide to perform one of two types of surgeries. The first, referred to as breast-sparing surgery (or a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy), occurs when a surgeon only removes the area of the breast that is affected by the cancer. The second, known as a mastectomy, is where the surgeon removes the entire breast. During each of these two types of surgeries, the surgeon will also likely remove some lymph nodes under the arms in order to check to see if the cancer has spread from the breast.
Usually given after surgery, radiation therapy is the use of high-energy rays to kill the breast cancer cells. It can be given externally, meaning the radiation stems from a large machine, or internally, where the radiation is placed in a small tube and inserted into the breast through a tiny incision.