Triple-negative breast cancer is cancer that tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein. Cell receptors are special proteins found inside and on the surface of cells. These receptor proteins are the “eyes” and “ears” of the cells, receiving messages from substances in the bloodstream and then telling the cells what to do. Hormone receptors inside and on the surface of healthy breast cells receive messages from the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The hormones attach to the receptors and provide instructions that help the cells continue to grow and function well. Most, but not all, breast cancer cells also have these hormone receptors.
Triple-negative breast cancer is considered to be more aggressive and have a poorer prognosis than other types of breast cancer, mainly because there are fewer targeted medicines that treat triple-negative breast cancer. Studies have shown that triple-negative breast cancer is more likely to spread beyond the breast and more likely to recur (come back) after treatment.
It tends to be higher grade than other types of breast cancer. The higher the grade, the less the cancer cells resemble normal, healthy breast cells in their appearance and growth patterns. On a scale of 1 to 3, triple-negative breast cancer often is grade 3.
It usually is a cell type called “basal-like.” “Basal-like” means that the cells resemble the basal cells that line the breast ducts. Basal-like cancers tend to be more aggressive, higher grade cancers — just like triple-negative breast cancers. Most but not all basal-like breast cancers are triple negative, and most but not all triple-negative breast cancers are basal-like.
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