Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC)

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 29 March 2021

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC)

Triple-negative breast cancer is characterised as cancer that tests negative for three of the key factors that drive other types of breast cancer: the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, as well as a protein named HER2. Knowing this information assists doctors in determining the right course of treatment for you.

Since triple-negative breast cancer is more severe than other types, this is crucial. It’s more likely to have spread outside the breast before it’s discovered, and it’s more likely to recur within the first three years of treatment. Within the first five years, it’s even more likely to be fatal. However, after you’ve passed those benchmarks, the chances of surviving breast cancer are almost the same as they are with someone with some other form of breast cancer.

Another feature of this form of cancer is that it does not respond to any of the medications that are effective against other cancers. As a result, certain selective treatments for specific cancerous cells, such as HER2-positive breast cancer, would be ineffective. That isn’t to say it can’t be handled. Your doctor will consult with you to determine the right treatment plan after you’ve been diagnosed.


Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Symptoms

When diagnosed, the signs of triple-negative breast cancer are mostly the same as those of other forms of breast cancer, which include:

  • A lump or mass in the breast
  • Breast pain or redness
  • A nipple that turns inward or has a discharge


Risk Factors for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Doctors aren’t sure what factors increase the chances of developing triple-negative breast cancer. Only about 20% of people with breast cancer get it, but it’s a rare occurrence. If you have triple-negative breast cancer, you’re more likely to:

  • Are African-American or Latina
  • Are under 40
  • Have what your doctor will call a BRCA mutation (a change in a gene), especially the gene BRCA1


Diagnosing Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

You won’t know the type you have until you’ve been checked by a doctor. Once doctors detect an irregular region in the breast, they can take a tiny section of tissue and examine the cells. A biopsy is a medical term for this procedure.

Your biopsied tissue would be studied under a microscope by a pathologist. They will be able to see whether the cells are regular, precancerous, or cancerous based on the structure. If it’s cancer, they’ll conduct further testing to ascertain the form. Triple-negative breast cancer is detected because the cells don’t screen positive for oestrogen, progesterone, or HER2 receptors. The biopsy findings may take a few weeks to arrive.

Your cancer would still be “staged” by the specialist. This is where they decide how much there is and where it is in the body.


Questions for Your Doctor

  • Which medications would you suggest?
  • What stage of cancer do I have? Has it spread to other sections of the body, such as lymph nodes (glands around the breast)?
  • Is chemotherapy safer to get before or after surgery?
  • What kind of surgery do I require?
  • Would I need radiation therapy?


Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Treatment

Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are commonly used to combat triple-negative breast cancer.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy, a drug that destroys cancer cells, would almost certainly be the first treatment option the doctor considers. It may be inserted into a vein or swallowed as a pill. This form of cancer can react better to chemo than others if detected early. Chemotherapy should be administered in one of three forms by the doctor:

  • Neoadjuvant therapy: Neoadjuvant treatment is where you receive chemotherapy prior to operation in order to shrink the tumour and make the surgery easier. If you have locally active breast cancer and your doctor doesn’t believe you should be operated on right now, or if the cancer makes it impossible that your breast can be spared, this is the preferred option.
  • Adjuvant therapy: During treatment, adjuvant treatment is required. If you have a big tumour or if the lymph nodes are affected, you might have it. You’re more prone to relapse. Hormone therapies and other forms of adjuvant therapy won’t help for triple-negative breast cancer.
  • Immunotherapy: When cancer has advanced and treatment is not an alternative, immunotherapy is paired with chemotherapy.



There are two forms of surgery. Since triple-negative breast cancer is aggressive, several doctors believe that removing the whole breast with a mastectomy is the only option. This is more likely to occur if:

  • There are several tumours.
  • The cancer has affected the skin.
  • There is a tumour on your nipple.
  • You already had cancer in that breast.
  • A large tumour.
  • There are calcium deposits or other abnormal cells in your breast.

However, there hasn’t been much study done on the topic. Your doctor may recommend that a lumpectomy, which removes only the tumour and its surrounding tissues, is necessary.



After treatment, radiation is commonly used to destroy any cancer cells that exist. The aim is to prevent the cancer from returning. It appears more often after a lumpectomy.


Clinical trial

Consider a clinical trial. With so much research into alternative therapies, it’s a good idea to consult with the doctor to see if there is one that will be helpful to you. Clinical experiments aid scientists in assessing the effectiveness and effectiveness of experimental medicines. It’s frequently a safe place to get a new medication that isn’t widely accessible.


Taking Care of Yourself

Your doctor may like to visit you frequently after the medication is over to ensure that the cancer does not return. You’ll typically see them every 3 to 6 months over the first 3 years. After that, you’ll presumably return every 6 to 12 months over the next two years. You’ll actually just go in once a year once you’ve been cancer-free for six years. If you have any new signs, or if you have inflammation or other issues with the breasts, call your doctor right away.


Prognosis and Survival Rates

Triple-negative breast cancer can be treated through medication. The extent of the tumour, the rate at which the cancer spreads, and whether the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes or other areas of the body all play a role. Nausea, vomiting, discomfort, exhaustion, or mental fuzziness (also known as “chemo brain") can occur as a result of the treatments.

Since cancer impacts people differently, it’s difficult to predict what the chances are. Furthermore, how good you perform is measured by how easily you diagnose cancer and how well you react to treatment.

In total, 91% of all people diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer survive 5 years following their diagnosis. The 5-year relative survival figure for cancer that has spread to lymph nodes near the breast (regional) is about 65 percent. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, the 5-year relative survival rate is just 11%.



While triple-negative breast cancer is more likely than other types to spread to other parts of the body, the chance of this happening decreases with time. Within 3 years of therapy, the risk increases and then rapidly declines.


Getting Support

No one will understand what you’re going through better than someone else who has this type of breast cancer.  Organizations including the American Cancer Society ( and the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation ( will connect you with community groups in addition to providing disease statistics. You may also look around for local organisations that meet at a church or a community centre.

Don’t hesitate to tell your friends and family about what’s going on, and to ask for support if you need it. It’s up to you who you say and what you tell them, so the more you tell them, the more equipped they’ll be to help you when you need it.


Referenced on 29.3.2021

  1. “How Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Behaves and Looks,” “Treatment for Triple Negative Breast Cancer.”
  2. Anders, C. 100 Questions & Answers About Triple Negative Breast Cancer, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2012.
  3. American Cancer Society: “Cancer Staging,” “Signs and symptoms of breast cancer,” “How is breast cancer classified?”
  4. Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation: “Guide to Understanding Triple Negative Breast Cancer,” “Survivorship.”
  5. Susan G. Komen: “Facts for life: Triple negative breast cancer.”
  6. Stanley Lipkowitz, MD, PhD, chief, Women’s Malignancies Branch; senior investigator, National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research.
  7. Canadian Cancer Society: “Triple-negative and basal-like breast cancers.”
  8. UpToDate: “Epidemiology, risk factors and the clinical approach to ER/PR negative, HER2-negative (Triple-negative) breast cancer.”
  9. National Cancer Institute: “Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program.”

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