Understanding Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
- A 24-year-old barista tried to “pop” what she thought was a pimple on her breast. However, it was actually stage 2 triple-negative breast cancer.
- Triple-negative breast cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease and accounts for about 20% of all breast cancers in the United States.
- It’s called triple-negative because it doesn’t have any of the main drivers of breast cancer and consequently doesn’t respond to treatments that target them.
“I never thought I was at risk of cancer, especially at my age,” Siobhan Harrison, who’s from New Tredegar, Wales, United Kingdom, told the Daily Mail. “I want to get the word out that young women need to be checking their breasts for lumps and must notify their doctor if there are any changes, as it could be lifesaving.”Read More
But the lump didn’t pop; it became bruised and swollen.
Concerned by this, she made an appointment with her doctor, who referred her for additional testing. However, Siobhan was informed that there was a nine-month-long waiting list for an appointment.
She didn’t want to wait that long.
So, she paid out-of-pocket for a private ultrasound of the lump, and thankfully she did because she was told that even though the doctors didn’t know what the lump was, there was a possibility it could be cancerous. Siobhan was then advised to get a biopsy of the lump.
She had the lump biopsied on June 22, 2021, and shortly after, she was diagnosed with stage 2 triple-negative breast cancer.
“I was so upset,” she said. “It (the cancer) was fast growing, and the lump was now over 2 centimeters in size. Doctors scheduled me in for surgery the following week; it all happened very fast.”
Siobhan underwent a lumpectomy (surgery to remove cancer or other abnormal tissue from the breast) of her left breast in July 2021. Her surgery was followed by 12 rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She began chemotherapy shortly after surgery, in August 2021, and radiation earlier this year. (The chemotherapy and radiation treatments were “preventative measures” after surgery, as she was at high risk of her cancer coming back.)
She recently finished treatment and received the great news that she was cancer-free in the spring!
“The treatment did its job and I got the all-clear in spring this year,” she said. “Since then, I’ve been on a trial which screens my blood every few weeks to check for cancer cells. So far, everything has come back clear.”
While her fight with breast cancer was difficult, “I’m so thankful to now be on the other side of treatment and I’m now focusing on improving my fitness levels as I went back to work in March.”
Understanding Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (In the U.K., where Siobhan is from, there are about 55,000 cases of the disease diagnosed each year.)
Triple-negative breast cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease and accounts for about 20% of all breast cancers in the U.S.
It’s called triple-negative because it doesn’t have any of the main drivers of breast cancer — the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor or the HER2 receptor — and consequently doesn’t respond to treatments that target them. The main treatment for this type of breast cancer is chemotherapy, immunotherapy or participation in clinical trials.
If a patient has metastatic (stage 4) triple-negative breast cancer, the usual first line of therapy is chemotherapy. There are different chemotherapy options depending on the burden of disease, which refers to how sick someone is with their disease. Triple-negative breast cancer is usually responsive to chemotherapy.
“If the disease burden is not too great, meaning that a woman doesn’t have a lot of symptoms, we can often start with oral chemotherapy,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a breast oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet during a previous interview.
In certain instances, a patient will become resistant to their first line of therapy and will have to switch to another chemotherapy. There are many different chemotherapies that are used for triple-negative breast cancer. There are also different clinical trials that may be available to patients.