Triple negative breast cancer refers to breast tumors that test negative for estrogen receptors, negative for progesterone receptors, and negative for high amounts of HER2 protein. About 15% of breast cancers are deemed triple negative and these spread more quickly and are more likely to recur than other breast cancers.
This diagnosis is more common among women who are younger than age 40, African American, Hispanic and/or have a BRCA1 gene mutation.
Triple negative breast cancer treatment
Because the cancer cells do not have estrogen and progesterone receptors, and do not have high amounts of HER2 protein, common treatments such as hormonal therapy to block estrogen and progesterone, and targeted drugs that home in on HER2, are not effective against this cancer type. Chemotherapy is still the standard of care, especially if the disease is diagnosed at an early stage, but the need for newer, more effective treatment remains urgent.
Roswell Park offers several treatment options for women with triple-negative breast cancer, including some unavailable from other providers:
- Immunotherapy for breast cancer. These latest drugs work by triggering the body’s immune system to attack the cancer and have extended survival for thousands of cancer patients. One immunotherapy currently approved for triple-negative breast cancer is atezolizumab. While some immunotherapies are effective in breast cancer, the response is not as robust as seen in other cancer types, and researchers are working to on ways to improve this. One approach available through a clinical trial at Roswell Park involves using inflammation-modulating drugs before immunotherapy to improve its effectiveness in women with triple-negative breast cancer.
- Other clinical trials. Roswell Park offers many more options through clinical trials, such as new anti-cancer agents, different chemotherapy drugs and combinations and in different sequences.
In the pipeline: new treatments for triple negative breast cancer
Roswell Park researchers continue to investigate triple-negative breast cancer to understand more about what drives it and how we may treat it more effectively. One recent discovery was that tamoxifen, a current drug used for treating and preventing ER-positive breast cancers, may also help triple-negative breast cancers because these cancers have an alternate estrogen receptor, ER-beta. Learn more about this finding and tamoxifen’s new role in triple-negative breast cancer.
Breastfeeding reduces risk in African American women
Groundbreaking research led by Roswell Park’s Christine Ambrosone, PhD, Senior Vice President of Population Sciences, discovered that African American women who breastfed their babies had a lower risk for estrogen receptor (ER) negative breast cancer. Her findings were so significant that she helped to develop breast cancer education programs that promote breastfeeding among populations at highest risk. Learn more about how breastfeeding affects risk for triple negative breast cancer.