What exactly does it mean to have triple negative breast cancer?

During initial diagnosis of breast cancer, doctors will perform tests to search for the presence of three receptors or proteins in the cancer cells. These receptors are the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2.

A positive result for one or more of these receptors means a woman has additional treatment options of either hormone therapy or targeted therapy. If all of the receptor tests come back negative, then the cancer is classified as triple-negative breast cancer, and those treatments will not work for the patient. About 15 percent of breast cancers are triple negative, and studies suggest that triple negative breast cancer is more common in women under 40 and in African-American and Hispanic women.

While women with triple negative breast cancer have a fewer number of treatment options, studies suggest that triple negative cancers actually respond better to chemotherapy than hormone receptor positive or HER2 positive cancers. Chemotherapy will most likely be given to the whole body in order to destroy any small cancer cells that have traveled elsewhere in the body.

Most women will have chemotherapy and surgery and some might also have radiation treatment.