Did you know that March is Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Month? If you’ve never heard of triple-negative breast cancer, it’s a rare and aggressive breast cancer, and many women with it or who’ve known someone with it use March to bring awareness to it. Unfortunately, tripe-negative breast cancer is harder to treat than some other breast cancers. This is mainly because it doesn’t have the same receptors (like progesterone) that can be treated with options like hormone therapy. This is why giving you more details can help spread the word, and potentially, save a life. Let’s dive into what triple-negative breast cancer is, and what you need to keep an eye out for.

What is it?

First, what is triple-negative breast cancer? Also known as TNBC, this disease is an aggressive form of breast cancer. Before diagnosing, pathologists look for three receptors (proteins) in all breast tumors that are thought to promote the growth of breast cancer when diagnosing the disease. TNBC’s cancer cells test negative for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), progesterone (PR), and estrogen (ER).

Compared to other forms of breast cancer, TNBC typically spreads quickly. TNBC also has the same increased risk of metastasizing and reoccurring following treatment, and has less treatment options.

How quickly does it spread?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, studies have shown that TNBC spreads quicker than other subtypes.  The study showed that triple-negative breast cancer tumors grew by 1% daily, while daily growth rates of HER2-positive breast cancer tumors were 0.859%.

Who is most at risk?

Certain people are more likely to develop TNBC if they meet specific risk criteria. These people include women who are not yet menopausal and those under 50, women with the BRCA1 mutations, and both Hispanic and African-American women.

TNBC accounts for about 70% of breast cancer cases found in women with inherited BRCA1 mutations and is more common in women who identify as Hispanic and African American. Unfortunately, TNBC is one of the biggest breast cancer risks to black women, accounting for 20%–40% of their breast cancer diagnoses. You run a higher risk of developing TNBC if any of these factors apply to you, so it’s important to continue getting screened annually.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms for TNBC are similar to other breast cancers. These include:

  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Lymphedema
  • Skin changes
  • Changes in breast shape
  • Mass found on a mammogram
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Nipple inversion
  • Swelling of the breast
  • A lump
  • Thickening of the nipple skin
  • New crease in the breast

While you may not have all of these symptoms, they are usually the first signs that something is wrong. If you notice any of these symptoms, please make a doctor’s visit as soon as you can.

How is it treated?

Patients frequently require a lumpectomy (removal of the lump) or a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) as a first step. The cancer cells that are still in the breast or that may have spread to other areas of the body are then targeted by chemotherapy treatments. In order to minimize the cancer, doctors may occasionally advise chemotherapy prior to surgery. Unfortunately, due to the nature of TNBC, this is often the only way to treat it, unlike slower moving cancers where you have more options.

A lumpectomy involves the removal of the breast lump by a surgeon. Additionally, in order to determine whether the cancer has spread, he or she removes any nearby lymph nodes, which are tiny organs that are a part of your immune system. To check if the cancer has spread, your surgeon will remove the breast during a mastectomy along with any surrounding lymph nodes.

The other two options will be after surgery, and they include radiation and chemotherapy. After a lumpectomy, radiation therapy is then recommended to eradicate any cancer cells that may still be present. Typically, this treatment lasts around six weeks and many women visit four or five days a week for 20 to 30 minute sessions.

It’s possible that cancerous cells have spread to other parts of your body. Chemotherapy aims to eradicate those cancer cells and reduce the likelihood that your cancer will spread or return.

How can I support someone with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?

If you have a loved one afflicted with triple negative breast cancer, it may all seem overwhelming, especially if you become a caretaker for them. But there are many ways to support them and help them on their journey. Here are just a few things you can do.

Be Well Informed

Go with your loved one to her appointments, and inquire about resources from the medical staff that will educate the both of you on the diagnosis and course of treatment. Your loved one must give you written consent if you need to speak with the medical staff without them present. Otherwise, you can also do your research online on ways to make things as comfortable as possible, or look up questions that you should be asking.

Understand Their Healthcare Rights/Finances

Most American employers are obligated by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave annually to family members who require time off to care for a spouse, child, or parent. Consult your employer if you require unpaid leave as a caretaker, and look into your loved ones policies to see if they qualify, as well as if they have short-term disability insurance.

Knowing the ins and outs of insurance policies can also help your loved one avoid needless expenses and help you determine what other services they might require. They might also qualify for state and federal programs like Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare.

Also, if your loved one needs help with their finances, numerous programs are available to help meet their needs. You can search a database on the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (CFAC) website by type of assistance or cancer diagnosis

Join A Support Group

During the diagnosis and treatment of their loved one, many caregivers discover that support groups may help. Members of the group can often lend a sympathetic ear and offer advice on caring for others. You don’t even have to attend one in person — there are many that are offered over the phone and online.

What can I do if I’m diagnosed?

The first thing you should do when you’re diagnosed is to talk to your trusted medical professional and come up with the next steps for your treatment plan. With TNBC, time is of the essence, and the sooner you start treatment, the better.

Next, be sure to check with your insurance, including medical and any short-term disability insurance you may have. Know your options, costs, and more and make sure you get it all in writing.

Of course, it’s hard going through a cancer diagnosis alone, and you shouldn’t have to. So build your support group. This can include your spouse, loved ones, and friends. You may also be able to find a support group with women going through the same thing as you!

No matter what, being diagnosed with cancer is scary. But the more prepared you are to face it, and the support you have along the way, the better your chances of kicking its ass.

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer: Bringing Awareness in March!

Similar to other forms of breast cancer, detecting TNBC early through routine cancer screening is essential, and can help improve your prognosis. And luckily, as technology and breast cancer treatments advance throughout the years, we can see massive improvements in therapies and survival rates, so it’s not as scary as it used to be. We hope to continue to bring awareness to TNBC and all of the incredible women who fight it!

*The information provided on this website is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Reliance on any information provided by this website is solely at your own risk. The owners, contributors, authors, and publishers of this website are not liable for any losses, injuries, or damages arising from the use of the information on this website.*

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