Triple Negative Breast Cancer Day
For many years, we thought of breast cancer as a single disease whose severity was once measured by the size of the lump. Millions of dollars in research later, we know better. Breast cancer isn’t one disease as we once thought, but a family of diseases – some aggressive, some advanced, some deadly – and all requiring our best efforts to treat and cure.
One of those aggressive forms is triple negative breast cancer. It may surprise you to know that triple negative breast cancer wasn’t officially recognized as a distinct type of breast cancer until 2006 – less than a decade ago. It is a form that disproportionately affects young women, women with BRCA mutations and black and Hispanic women. It is also more likely to spread to other parts of the body than other types of breast cancer. It accounts for only about 15% of all breast cancer cases, but roughly 25% of breast cancer deaths.
The term “triple negative breast cancer” (TNBC) sounds more specific than it really is. In fact, TNBC is really defined by what the tumor is NOT. These tumors lack the receptors – estrogen (ER), progesterone (PR), and human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2) – that drive the majority of breast cancers. The absence of these receptors means that TNBC tumors are unlikely to respond to therapies that target these three receptors, including hormone therapies like tamoxifen and HER2-targeted therapies like trastuzumab (Herceptin). There are no targeted therapy options for TNBC patients, and cytotoxic chemotherapy (therapy that kills both normal and cancerous cells) is the standard of care.
There is an urgent need to find specific, targeted therapies for TNBC. This is why Susan G. Komen has invested more than $74 million in over 100 research grants focused on this breast cancer subtype to change the landscape for these patients.
In 2009, Komen and the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation announced a partnership to confront triple-negative disease head on: pledging a total of $6.4 million over five years to fund research to support the discovery of new TNBC treatments. Read more about how Promise Grant recipient Dr. Andres Forero is using these funds to expand treatment options for TNBC patients.
Another groundbreaking project, led by Komen Scholar Dr. Jennifer Pietenpol and funded by Komen and the Milburn Foundation, led Dr. Pietenpol and her team to identify six different subtypes of TNBC. Collaborating with researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Pietenpol group analyzed how the newly-discovered TNBC subtypes responded to different chemotherapy regimens, finding that response rates to treatment varied substantially by subtype. Identifying these subtypes could potentially lead to better outcomes for individuals with TNBC.
Dr. Pietenpol’s team is committed to learning more about TNBC and expanding knowledge and treatment options for patients who are diagnosed with this aggressive breast cancer. They have developed a web-based tool that can help other researchers determine TNBC subtypes in their own samples.
This year, they will oversee two clinical trials that will test new, targeted treatments for the TNBC subtypes – the first of their kind to assign treatment to TNBC patients based on a predictive biomarker test.
Today, March 3, marks the second annual Triple Negative Breast Cancer Day – a national day of awareness and grassroots fundraising efforts, organized by the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, to help eradicate triple negative breast cancers and assist those impacted by the disease. Komen is pleased to be partnering with Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation to support TNBC research and all individuals facing TNBC.
The work we have achieved – both individually and together – is leading the way to better treatments, and ultimately, more lives saved from this terrible disease.
Help invest in the future of triple negative breast cancer research by showing your support today.
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About the author
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.