Understanding Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

National Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Awareness Day is dedicated to educating people about triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and the importance of early detection

Receiving a TNBC diagnosis can be overwhelming, which is why understanding your treatment options is critical. TNBC is a type of breast cancer that lacks the presence of the receptors that are commonly found in breast cancer. These receptors include estrogen, progesterone, and HER2. TNBC is more aggressive and difficult to treat in comparison to other types of breast cancer. Approximately 10-20% of all breast cancer cases are estimated to be TNBC.

How Is Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Treated?

Treatment for TNBC typically starts with surgery by either having the lump removed through a lumpectomy or the entire breast removed through mastectomy. Doctors often recommend radiation therapy after lumpectomy surgery and may recommend it after a mastectomy if the cancer is large or if there is cancer in the lymph nodes. In some cases, lumpectomies and mastectomies are followed by chemotherapy, with the goal of targeting any cancer cells that can’t be seen. These cells either remain in the breast or might have spread to other parts of the body. In some cases, TNBC patients undergo chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the cancer.


During a lumpectomy, the lump is removed from the breast, and the surgery takes about 1-2 hours. Nearby lymph nodes are also removed to see if the cancer has spread. After this surgery, most people spend the day at the hospital but don’t need to stay overnight. Some people choose to have breast reconstruction directly following this surgery. 


During a mastectomy, the breast and nearby lymph nodes are removed to see if the cancer has spread. Some people choose to have breast reconstruction during the same surgery.

Radiation Therapy

Lumpectomies are typically followed by radiation therapy. During radiation therapy, high-energy radiation is given to the breast to kill the remaining cancer cells. People typically undergo radiation therapy four to five days a week for about six weeks. Each treatment lasts about 20 minutes. 


Depending on the stage and characteristics of TNBC, a person might receive chemotherapy before or after surgery. Chemotherapy helps lower the chances that your cancer will grow or come back. 


Immunotherapy medicines use the power of your body’s immune system to attack the TNBC cancer cells.


CDC: Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Breastcancer.org: Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

American Cancer Society: Triple-negative Breast Cancer

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