March 3, 2014 marks the second annual Triple Negative Breast Cancer Day -- a national day of awareness raising, advocacy and grassroots fundraising events in support of a cure for triple negative breast cancers, and to provide assistance to those impacted by the disease. As an initiative of the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation (TNBCF), this national event brings an air of hope and positivity to a sobering health issue.
Triple negative breast cancer often flies under the radar of the larger breast cancer conversation. It is an aggressive cancer subtype that primarily strikes premenopausal women, as early as in their 20s and 30s, along with African American, Latina and Caribbean women. Moreover, it significantly lags behind in the advancement of treatments used for other types of breast cancers.
TNBCF co-founder and executive director Hayley Dinerman says:
Our focus at the foundation is twofold. [One], we support triple negative research to find targeted treatments and [two], we are serving as a beacon of hope and giving a voice to the disease by providing information, services and programming that is exclusively devoted to the triple negative breast cancer community.
TNBCF's work directly impacts women battling this disease. Small grants provide assistance to women working to surmount the seemingly small, yet critical obstacles necessary to receive cancer care, including access to transportation or funds to pay a babysitter in order to go to the hospital or doctor's office for treatment.
As to what women can do to help themselves in terms of prevention, screening and treatment, Dinerman stresses:
Early detection is the key, because it gives you more options. Regular self breast exams are crucial, especially since triple negative breast cancer is extremely aggressive and can grow significantly from one mammogram to the next. Listen to your body, and be your own advocate. If you feel something is wrong, go get it checked out.
If the diagnosis is triple negative breast cancer, the resources the foundation provides are invaluable. It allows women to evaluate their treatment and be aware of all the options through a global support community that shares information. They also have a telephone help line that directs women towards services that may be useful specifically for triple negative breast cancer.
To learn more about participating in Triple Negative Breast Cancer Day click here or visit http://www.tnbcfoundation.org/tnbcday2014/learnabout.htm.
The following is an interview segment with Dr. Eric Winer, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director, Breast Oncology Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Winer has been committed to research on triple negative breast cancer for the last 10 years.
What's the good news in triple negative breast cancer research?
There are a wide range of studies going on looking at new approaches for the treatment of triple negative breast cancer, and many of these arise from the fact that we have a better understanding of these cancers than we once did. The earlier the stage of the disease [when a woman seeks treatment] the more likely she is going to do well.
Since triple negative breast cancer impacts young African American women at higher rates, do you think they should get mammograms earlier?
Unfortunately, triple negative breast cancer is the one type of breast cancer that is not seen on mammograms, in the sense that it grows quite quickly so it often comes up in between mammographic visits. Young women need to bring any lumps or abnormalities that they may find in their breasts to the attention of their health professional.
And while most of the time it will turn out to be a cyst or something benign, that's not always the case. The cancers that young African American women get -- unfortunately -- are these more difficult to treat, triple negative breast cancers.
Do you think that triple negative breast cancer survivors should worry about their daughters contracting the disease? I've heard there are some triple negative breast cancer survivors encouraging their daughters to have mastectomies as a preventative measure.
No I don't think that that's the case. I think unless someone hast the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, I would not recommend that a woman routinely undergo bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. I think that the daughter of someone with triple negative breast cancer should probably get into a screening program sooner rather than later, and this is the exception to the age rule [of recommending yearly mammograms beginning at age 40].
If your mother had breast cancer at age 40, it would generally be recommended that you begin having mammograms somewhere between [the ages of] 30 and 35. If you do have a young family member with breast cancer, we usually recommend screening [at an age] five to 10 years younger than the [age of your] youngest relative [when they were diagnosed with cancer].
What can the readers take away about triple negative breast cancer?
I think the message is triple negative breast cancer accounts for between 10 to 15 percent of all breast cancers. We haven't solved this problem yet, but it's also not a death sentence. There is a belief out there that triple negative breast cancer routinely results in a women dying from breast cancer, and it doesn't.
The majority of women with triple negative breast cancers are -- thankfully -- cured and survive. Triple negative cancer is something that if it has not come back by the five-year mark, you are almost certainly are cured of it. So the recurrences of triple negative breast cancer, unlike other types of cancers, tend to arise early on, not late.
[However], compared to other types of breast cancers, there is a higher recurrence rate and when women develop recurrences unfortunately, they often don't live very long. So it's a difficult form of breast cancer.
Correction: An earlier version of this post identified Hayley Zimmerman as TNBCF acting executive director. Hayley Dinerman is executive director of TNBCF.
For more information about the TNBCF and how you can support their work, visit their website at www.tnbcfoundation.org.