Triple-negative breast cancer is typically treated with a combination of therapies such as surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Many women are worried when they find out that additional treatments such as hormonal therapy and Herceptin aren’t likely to treat triple-negative breast cancer. But new treatments are being studied, and there is encouraging news about chemotherapy for triple-negative breast cancer.
Some research has shown that hormone-receptor-negative breast cancers — which triple-negative breast cancers are — actually respond better to chemotherapy than breast cancers that are hormone-receptor-positive. If you follow the treatment plan that makes the most sense for your specific situation, while doing your best to make healthy lifestyle choices such as eating a healthy low-fat diet, exercising regularly, and limiting alcohol, you’re doing everything you can to treat the cancer.
You also may wonder whether you should have more aggressive treatment, such as mastectomy rather than lumpectomy, or more chemotherapy treatments or higher doses of chemotherapy. It’s logical to assume that, since triple-negative breast cancer tends to be more aggressive, it should get more aggressive treatment. At this time, however, there is no standard recommendation that people with triple-negative breast cancer should have more treatment.
Some studies have looked at whether giving chemotherapy before surgery — called neoadjuvant therapy — may be a good option for women with triple-negative breast cancer. A small study of women with locally advanced triple-negative breast cancer found that for two-thirds of them, chemotherapy medications given before surgery resulted in no living cancer cells in the tumor when it was removed. Another study, published in 2008 by researchers at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, found that chemotherapy before surgery benefited some women with triple-negative breast cancer, causing all evidence of disease to disappear. For these women, survival rates were similar to those of women with breast cancer that was not triple-negative. Another 2007 study of more than 100 women found that neoadjuvant chemotherapy did benefit some participants with hormone-receptor-negative and triple-negative breast cancer. These women had a complete response to chemotherapy (no evidence of disease) and then went on to have surgery. More research on neoadjuvant chemotherapy for triple-negative breast cancer is needed.
Because doctors are still developing their understanding of triple-negative breast cancer, they may vary in their treatment recommendations. You may find it helpful to get a couple of different opinions.
You can visit our Treatment section for more information about surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.