Doctors consider triple-negative breast cancer aggressive because it can spread faster and recur more often than other types of breast cancer. It has a 5-year survival rate of 62%, but rates are lower for people whose cancer has spread.

The above information is from a 2018 study published in Clinical Medicine Insights: Oncology.

Triple-negative breast cancer has lower survival rates than other breast cancers because it is more aggressive and difficult to treat.

Read more to learn about the survival rates for different stages of triple-negative breast cancer, its recurrence rates, and more.

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Other breast cancers may have one or more receptor cells that respond to hormones or targeted agents. There are three main types:

Doctors diagnose breast cancer by identifying which receptors are present. They can treat it by targeting those receptors.

However, triple-negative breast cancer does not have any of these receptors. This means doctors cannot treat it by targeting specific receptors, making treatment options more limited.

Triple-negative breast cancer has higher recurrence rates than most other types of breast cancer. A 2018 Dutch population-based study found that its 10-year recurrence rate was 7.1%. Rates were lower for cancers with ER and PR.

According to specialists, the highest risk of recurrence typically occurs in the first few years following treatment. Studies suggest about 75% of recurrences happen within 3 years of diagnosis, and most occur within 5 years.

A 2018 Brazilian study found that in people with triple-negative breast cancer, cancers that had spread to the lymph nodes, were at later stages, or both were associated with higher recurrence rates. This means that if a person’s cancer has spread to other parts of the body, they may be more likely to have cancer that returns.

Doctors consider triple-negative breast cancer more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. Therefore, they may recommend a mastectomy followed by radiation or chemotherapy. This treatment protocol can reduce an individual’s risk of recurrence and improve their survival rate.

However, according to a 2021 study, cancer recurrence rates are the same for those who had lumpectomy or removal of a lump and mastectomy. It indicated that a varied treatment protocol including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation led to the best outcomes. As each person’s cancer is different, a doctor or oncologist can determine which treatment options are best for an individual.

Triple-negative breast cancer accounted for about 12% of breast cancer diagnoses in the United States from 2012–2016. In general, it has a lower survival rate than other types of breast cancer.

Researchers base survival rates on the percentage of people still alive at least 5 years after receiving a diagnosis.

However, survival rates have some limitations. For example:

  • Doctors base the rates on a 5-year time gap, so those with a recent diagnosis may have a higher survival rate because of treatment advancements.
  • They do not take recurrence, metastasis, or stages into account.
  • Individual factors like preexisting conditions, age, and family history can play a role.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) categorizes breast cancers into three groups based on if and how far they have spread:

  • localized in the breast
  • regional, where cancer has spread to nearby areas
  • distant, where cancer has spread to further areas

According to the ACS, the 5-year survival rates for triple-negative breast cancer are:

Stage5-year survival rate
localized91%
regional65%
distant12%

Certain people are more likely to develop triple-negative breast cancer. Some risk factors are unavoidable, while others are lifestyle-related.

People who are more likely to develop it include:

African Americans are twice as likely to get triple-negative breast cancer as their white counterparts. While scientists suspect genetics may play a role, experts also think inequities in healthcare, treatment options, and socioeconomic status contribute to their lower survival rates.

Hormone therapies are not effective in treating triple-negative breast cancer. Instead, doctors use other treatment methods.

A person’s treatment protocol may include a combination of:

Surgery may involve:

  • a lumpectomy, in which a surgeon removes some breast tissue
  • a mastectomy, in which the surgeon removes one or both breasts

Although triple-negative breast cancer may be harder to treat than other breast cancers, this does not mean it is not treatable. Successful treatment depends on how early a doctor detects cancer and its stage at diagnosis.

Some people are more prone to triple-negative breast cancer than others. However, having risk factors does not necessarily mean that a person will develop the condition. Similarly, some people with no risk factors will develop it.

While it is impossible to prevent breast cancer, a person can reduce their risk by:

People should also have regular mammograms. The ACS recommends women aged 45–54 have yearly mammograms. They also say women aged 40–44 should have the option to start having mammograms.

Doctors consider triple-negative breast cancer aggressive. However, this does not mean that they cannot treat it.

This is why early diagnosis, regular mammograms, and self-exams are so important. The condition is easier to treat if found in its early stages, leading to a better outlook.

Survival rates depend greatly on the stage of cancer at diagnosis. Triple-negative breast cancer tends to recur more frequently than other types of cancer. However, if cancer does not return within 5 years, this risk decreases.

The Breast Cancer Healthline app provides access to an online breast cancer community, where users can connect with others and gain advice and support through group discussions.

Read this article in Spanish.