Around 15% of all breast cancer are triple negative. It is a type of breast cancer that does not have the three most common type of receptors known to make most breast cancers grow.

What Is Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC)?

Triple negative breast cancer is a type of breast cancer that does not have the three most common type of receptors known to make most breast cancers grow – oestrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR) and HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2). Triple negative breast cancer accounts for approximately 15% of all breast cancers.

Triple negative breast cancer is a more aggressive cancer that usually occurs at an earlier age. It has a greater chance of developing into a metastatic stage and has poorer clinical outcomes as shown by higher relapse rates and lower survival rates. Because it does not have receptors that can be targeted by medications such as hormone- and HER2-blocking drugs, it has fewer treatment options available.

On this page, we’ll look at some of the symptoms of triple negative breast cancer, as well as treatment and prevention options.

What Are The Symptoms Of Triple Negative Breast Cancer?

The symptoms of TNBC are the same as any other type of breast cancer.

Symptoms can include:

  • New lump in the breast, armpit area or around the collarbone
  • Change in breast size or shape
  • Changes to the nipple, such as sores or crusting, an ulcer or inverted nipple
  • Clear or bloody nipple discharge
  • Changes to the skin including redness, puckering or dimpling (an ‘orange peel’ appearance)
  • Breast tenderness or pain

Learn more about the symptoms of breast cancer.

Who Is At Risk Of Developing Triple Negative Breast Cancer?

Anyone can be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and should be aware of their own personal risk factors. You can use the online iPrevent tool to better understand your breast cancer risk and act on it.

There are a number of known risk factors for triple negative breast cancer including:

  • BRCA Mutations

    A BRCA1 gene mutation is associated with a higher risk of triple negative breast cancer. However, most triple negative breast cancers are not caused by a BRCA gene mutation. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, you may wish to consider genetic testing. This is something to discuss with your doctor.

  • Pre-Menopausal Women

    While the average age of first being diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia is 61, triple negative breast cancer occurs more often in patients who are pre-menopausal or under 50 years of age. The cause of triple negative breast cancer in this young age group is not yet completely known. However, it could be due to breasts of younger women in their childbearing and breastfeeding years is of a different composition to the breast of an older women who has been menopausal for a long time.

  • African American and African Women

    Triple negative breast cancer is more likely to be diagnosed in African American and African women compared with white or Hispanic women. This is thought to be due to genes or mutations that pre-dispose this group of women, particularly pre-menopausal women, to triple negative breast cancer.

Treatment Of Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Standard treatment of early stage triple negative breast cancer typically includes the following:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Usually a course of radiotherapy

Often chemotherapy treatment is given prior to breast surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy), as it can effectively reduce the size of the breast cancer while providing useful information about the effectiveness of the treatment being given.

Prevention Of Triple Negative Breast Cancer

For those who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, there are important considerations for the prevention of breast cancer. Women who carry BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations have an approximate 70% risk of developing breast cancer and up to 40% risk of developing ovarian cancer over their lifetimes.

There are preventative strategies for those with this genetic mutations which include protective surgery via the removal of both healthy breasts and hormonal therapy medicines such as tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor. Removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes helps reduce the risk of both ovarian and breast cancer. The breast cancer benefit is due to a reduction in the levels of oestrogen in the body.

There is no definitive way to prevent breast cancer, however there are a number of risk factors that you can manage to reduce the likelihood of future breast cancer. This includes maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking and engaging in regular exercise. You can read about breast cancer prevention and how to reduce your risk here.

Early Detection is Key to Treating TNBC

Triple negative breast cancer tends to be a more aggressive disease than some other breast cancers which means it grows faster, and has fewer effective treatment options. Triple negative breast cancer is also more likely to recur within two to three years of diagnosis, as opposed to 10 to 15 years for those with oestrogen receptor – positive breast cancer. Early detection is therefore vital. If you have a strong family history, you should consider discussing your prevention and testing options with your doctor.

Breast Cancer Trials researchers are committed to finding new and better treatments for all subtypes of breast cancer, including triple negative breast cancer. You can learn more about the Breast Cancer Trials research program here and view Breast Cancer Trials open clinical trials h­­­­ere.

Support Us

Help us to change lives through breast cancer clinical trials research

Latest Articles

Assessing the Participant Experience of Undergoing Breast MRI – Dr Julia Matheson
Investigating the Impact of Novel Breast Cancer Treatments – Dr Julia Dixon-Douglas