When oncologists understand what fuels a cancer’s growth, they can treat it more effectively. In about 10 percent to 20 percent of breast cancers, the cause of the growth is unclear. Those cancers may be diagnosed as triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), an aggressive form of cancer.

At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, we test all invasive breast cancers to see if the tumor qualifies as triple negative. We offer comprehensive care and innovative treatment for every stage of TNBC.

What Is Triple Negative Breast Cancer?

Our pathologists study breast tumors for three receptors (proteins) known to fuel breast cancer growth: estrogen (ER) hormone receptor, progesterone (PR) hormone receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). If the cancer cells test negative for all three receptors, the diagnosis is TNBC.

There are no unusual breast cancer symptoms associated with TNBC. Like other invasive types of breast cancer, it is more likely to spread beyond the breast (metastatic breast cancer) and recur (return) after treatment.

Treatment for TNBC is more limited than for other breast cancers. Without receptors, common breast cancer treatments like hormone therapy are typically ineffective against TNBC. However, recent developments in research have led to several new options for some patients with TNBC including immunotherapy, which activates the immune system to fight the cancer.

Triple Negative Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Research shows that some people have a greater chance of developing TNBC. Risk factors include:

  • Age: Premenopausal women and those under the age of 50 have an increased risk of TNBC.
  • BRCA1 gene mutation: About 70 percent of the breast cancers diagnosed in women with an inherited BRCA1 gene mutation are TNBC.
  • Ethnicity: African American and Hispanic women have a higher rate of TNBC. Approximately 20 to 40 percent of breast cancers diagnosed in African American women are triple negative.

The Cancer Risk Evaluation Program at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health can evaluate your breast cancer risk and offers genetic counseling for anyone with an increased risk of TNBC.

TNBC: The Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Advantage

From diagnosis to follow-up, our breast cancer team provides high-level care and compassionate support. Here you’ll find:

  • Comprehensive diagnosis: When we identify breast cancer, we learn everything we can about the tumor. Our expert pathologists use advanced testing to study each cancer so we can deliver the most effective treatment.
  • Multidisciplinary approach: Our breast cancer team includes all types of specialists. They come together to evaluate tumors from every angle and determine the best course of treatment for you. Meet our breast cancer team.
  • Innovative treatment: We offer advanced treatment for TNBC, including immunotherapy. You’ll also have access to promising treatments through clinical trials offered in Lancaster and Philadelphia.
  • Genetic counseling: If you are at high risk for TNBC, we offer education, counseling and support. The Basser Center for BRCA in Philadelphia offers resources just for people with a BRCA gene mutation.
  • Academic-level care close to home: We offer leading-edge breast cancer care in a community setting at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute in Lancaster. Learn more about our breast cancer care locations.

Our Approach to Triple Negative Breast Cancer Treatment

Treatment of TNBC can be challenging. Our expert breast cancer team understands the most effective treatment options. In addition to standard care, we offer the newest treatments and therapies for this type of cancer.

Your breast cancer treatment for TNBC may include:

  • Surgery, for the removal of affected breast tissue (lumpectomy) or the entire breast (mastectomy)
  • Breast reconstruction, which surgically recreates the shape and appearance of your breast during or after breast cancer surgery
  • Chemotherapy, which uses either oral or intravenous (IV) drugs to attack cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, used after surgery or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy, approved to treat select patients with advanced-stage HER2-negative breast cancer in people with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Immunotherapy, approved for select patients with advanced stage TNBC
  • Clinical trials, which give you access to promising breast cancer treatments for TNBC

Request an Appointment

To make an appointment at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute, call 717-544-9400 or request a callback using our online form.

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