Understanding Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
- Anna Ramsey, 28, discovered lumps in her breasts that turned out to be cancerous despite being told not to worry by her doctor.
- Triple-negative breast cancer is not fueled by any of the three main drivers of breast cancer: estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and the HER2 protein receptor.
- Because of that, this cancer has historically been one of the most aggressive and hardest to treat forms of the disease
- Chemotherapy is typically the treatment option for triple-negative breast cancer.
- Currently, a type of immunotherapy called pembrolizumab (Keytruda) can be used with chemotherapy before surgery and then continued after surgery for women with early-stage triple-negative breast cancer or those at a high risk of having their cancer return.
- Breast self-examination is an important screening tool, especially when combined with regular physical exams by a doctor, mammography, and in some cases ultrasound and/or MRI.
When Anna Ramsey, 28, first noticed a lump in her breast, doctors told her is was “nothing to worry about.” However, just months later, she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer.
Her story highlights the importance of being vigilant and advocating for your health.Read More
She went to see her doctor to have the second lump examined. After undergoing an ultrasound and a biopsy, she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form of the disease.
She also learned she carried the BRCA1 gene, which increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Fortunately, genetic tests can help women determine if they carry the gene.
“My consultant just cut straight to the chase and said, ‘The lump is cancerous’,” Ramsey recalled.
“I was just totally shocked,” Ramsey added.
A cancer diagnosis can be a surprising and emotional experience, as Ramsey can attest to. However, SurvivorNet experts say it’s completely normal to feel a wide range of emotions as you cope with a cancer diagnosis.
Leaning on loved ones for supporting, asking plenty of questions at your appointments, and talking with a therapist can all help you process your new journey.
Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Triple-negative breast cancer is not fueled by any of the three main drivers of breast cancer: estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and the HER2 protein receptor.
Because of that, this cancer has historically been one of the most aggressive and hardest to treat forms of the disease, because it doesn’t respond to treatments that target the main receptors, such as hormone therapy or HER2-targeted agents like Herceptin.
“Triple-negative breast cancers are most responsive to chemotherapy at the outset,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, told SurvivorNet.
Now, in addition to chemotherapy, immunotherapy has been approved to treat triple-negative breast cancer. In studies, this new therapy has been shown to extend the lives of women with this type of cancer.
WATCH: What is triple-negative breast cancer?
After Ramsey’s diagnosis, she underwent five months of chemotherapy.
“I think the hardest part was finding out that I’m probably going to lose my hair, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to work,” Ramsey said.
Her chemo was followed by a double mastectomy, which is the removal of both breasts. She then had reconstructive surgery, which rebuilds the shape of your breast.
Lastly, Ramsey underwent radiotherapy, which uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells.
Dr. Comen said oral chemotherapy such as the drug Xeloda can be given to women for treatment. IV chemotherapy is another option if an oral chemo drug becomes less effective.
WATCH: Metastatic Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Treatments To Consider
Meanwhile, immunotherapy boosts your body’s immune response to help it stop the cancer. The Food and Drug Administration has approved an immunotherapy treatment for some patients with breast cancer.
In a worldwide study of over 900 women, patients given immunotherapy plus chemotherapy lived 9 1/2 months longer than those given chemotherapy alone. Leading experts in breast cancer say doctors will now treat patients with triple-negative breast cancer with immunotherapy plus chemotherapy.
Currently, a type of immunotherapy called pembrolizumab (Keytruda) can be used with chemotherapy before surgery and then continued after surgery for women with early-stage triple-negative breast cancer or those at a high risk of having their cancer return.
It can also be used with chemotherapy when breast cancer has returned and cannot be removed by surgery or has spread and tests positive for a protein called PD-L1.
In certain instances, a patient will become resistant to their first line of therapy and will have to switch to another chemotherapy. Many different chemotherapies are used for triple-negative breast cancer. Different clinical trials may be available.
Expert Resources on Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
“It’s important that a woman goes through the options with her doctor because not all of them involve hair loss,” Dr. Comen said.
As for Ramsey, despite battling her cancer for most of last year, she responded well to treatment and told the outlet she is in remission.
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