Triple Negative Breast Cancer Signs & Symptoms

Staying vigilant and informed about our breast health is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of developing a life-threatening condition. This week in the Journal, we're digging in to learn more about Triple Negative Breast Cancer, a difficult to treat and aggressive form of the disease. Referred to as TNBC, this sub-type is very rare, accounting for about 10% to 15% of all breast cancers. It also tends to grow and spread faster than other types. However, TNBC is similar to other cancers in that, with early detection comes better prognosis. In this article, we’ll uncover the signs, symptoms and treatment options for those at risk and affected by Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

The Facts About TNBC

TNBC is known to be far more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. The name “Triple Negative” comes from the fact that cancer cells test negative for estrogen and progesterone receptors, as well as the protein HER2. Additionally, TNBC tends to be more common in patients under 40 who are black or hispanic, or carry the BRCA1 mutation. 

What We Should Look For

TNBC can have the same signs and symptoms as other common forms of breast cancer, which is why it’s important to get familiar with our breasts, perform self-breast exams, get annual mammograms and immediately notify our doctor when and if we discover changes. Here are specific signs to look for, keeping in mind that they can also be indicators of benign conditions as well:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast, noticing changes to in size or shape 
  • Lumps or masses beneath the skin
  • Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking or thickened
  • Skin dimpling
  • Nipple discharge
  • Nipple inversion or changes 
  • Breast or nipple pain, irritation, discomfort
  • Lymph Node swelling under the arm or near the collar bone

The Plan, Prognosis and Treatment

Medical intervention for TNBC often looks different for each individual. This specific form of breast cancer is known to be more aggressive and thus, likely to metastasize, or spread, than others, also making it more difficult to treat. Due to its lack of hormone receptors, TNBC cannot be treated with hormone therapies. Therefore, treatment will depend on where the cancer is localized, whether it has spread and what is ultimately determined to be the best course of action. TNBC has an 81% survival rate for all stages of the disease, making it similar to other breast cancers.

The risk of developing Triple Negative Breast Cancer in our lifetime varies based on our family history and background. While there is only so much any of us can do to reduce our risk of developing breast cancer, taking action to maintain a healthy lifestyle through diet, exercise, minimizing carcinogenic exposure and reporting any changes in our body to our doctor is key. Our wellness journey will encounter many variables throughout our life, but we can mitigate risk by maintaining a spirit of self-advocacy and commitment to vigilance. 

“Self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.” —Audre Lorde