Triple negative breast cancers are:
Triple negative/basal-like tumors are one of the 4 main molecular subtypes of breast cancer. Basal-like tumors have cells that look similar to those of the outer (basal) cells surrounding the mammary ducts.
Most triple negative tumors are basal-like (see figure below).
Learn more about molecular subtypes of breast cancer.
About 15-20 percent of all breast cancers are triple negative or basal-like [57-59,65-66].
These tumors tend to occur more often in [63,65-68]:
Triple negative tumors may also be more common among Hispanic women compared to white/non-Hispanic white women [67-69].
Most breast cancers related to a BRCA1 gene mutation are both triple negative and basal-like [70-72].
Triple negative breast cancers may also be related to a BRCA2 gene mutation .
People diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at age 60 or younger are recommended to get genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations .
Learn more about genetic testing.
Triple negative tumors are often aggressive and have a poorer prognosis than ER-positive breast cancers (at least within the first 5 years after diagnosis) [57,62,66].
However, after about 5 years, this difference begins to decrease and eventually goes away .
Triple negative tumors are aggressive, but they can be treated effectively. They are usually treated with some combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Triple negative tumors aren’t treated with hormone therapy because they are ER-negative. They also aren't treated with HER2-targeted therapies, such as trastuzumab (Herceptin), because they are HER2-negative.
Triple negative breast cancers are treated with chemotherapy. People with triple negative breast cancer tend to get more treatment benefit from chemotherapy than people with hormone receptor-positive breast cancers do .
Platinum-based chemotherapy drugs include carboplatin and cisplatin. These drugs are a chemotherapy option for people with triple negative breast cancer who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation .
Whether platinum-based chemotherapy drugs are more effective than other chemotherapy drugs at treating triple negative breast cancers is under study [16,76-79].
Learn more about breast cancer treatment.
Learn about emerging areas in chemotherapy for early and locally advanced breast cancer.
Learn about emerging areas in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.
Clinical trials are studying which treatments are the most effective for triple negative breast cancer.
After discussing the benefits and risks with your health care provider, we encourage you to consider joining a clinical trial.
BreastCancerTrials.org in collaboration with Susan G. Komen® offers a custom matching service to help you find clinical trials on triple negative breast cancer.
Susan G. Komen® Breast Cancer Clinical Trial Information Helpline
If you or a loved one needs information or resources about clinical trials, call our Clinical Trial Information Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877- 465- 6636) or email email@example.com.
Learn more about clinical trials.
Prevalence rates of triple negative breast cancer differ by race/ethnicity.
Triple negative/basal-like tumors appear to be more common among Black/non-Hispanic black/African-American women (especially before menopause) compared to women of other ethnicities [63,65-68,154].
Triple negative tumors may also be more common among Hispanic women compared to white/non-Hispanic white women [67-69,154].
Rates of triple negative breast cancer are higher among non-Hispanic black women diagnosed with breast cancer (21 percent) than among non-Hispanic white women diagnosed with breast cancer (10 percent) .
However, when you look at the total number of triple negative breast cancer cases, most are in white women. This is because the total number of white women diagnosed with breast cancer is much higher than the total number of women of other races/ethnicities diagnosed with breast cancer.
Learn more about numbers versus rates when looking at breast cancer statistics.
Although the reasons for racial/ethnic differences in rates of triple negative breast cancer are not clear, some lifestyle factors may play a role .
Compared to white/non-Hispanic white women, Black/African-American women tend to have lower rates of breastfeeding and tend to carry excess weight in the abdomen area [73,80-85]. Each of these factors may increase the chances of having triple negative breast cancer [66,80-85].
Certain reproductive and lifestyle factors may protect more against ER-positive breast cancers than ER-negative breast cancers, including triple negative breast cancers. So, even though women may have these protective factors, they may not lower the risk of triple negative breast cancers.
For example, African-American and Hispanic women are more likely than white women to [73,80-89]:
Although these factors lower the risk of breast cancer, this benefit may be limited to ER-positive breast cancers [80-81,83-84,89-90]. So, even though African-American and Hispanic women may have these protective factors, the factors may not lower the risk of triple negative breast cancers.
There’s even some evidence these factors may increase the risk of triple negative breast cancers [66,80-81,85,89-90].
These topics are under active study.
Higher rates of triple negative/basal-like tumors may explain, to some degree, the poor prognosis of breast cancers diagnosed in younger Black/non-Hispanic black/African-American women [67,91-93].
Also, luminal A tumors, which have the best prognosis of the subtypes, occur less often in premenopausal non-Hispanic black women compared to postmenopausal non-Hispanic black women and compared to non-Hispanic white women of either menopausal status [67,74].
*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date at this time.
Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Research Fast Facts
1-877 GO KOMEN(1-877-465-6636)