Triple-negative breast cancer can spread faster and is more likely to recur than other types of breast cancer. With early diagnosis, the 5-year survival rate is 91%, but rates are lower for people whose cancer has spread.

If cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, the survival rate is much lower, around 12%.

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.

If a person has triple-negative breast cancer, it means their cancer cells lack estrogen and progesterone receptors, and don’t produce an abundance of the protein human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2).

Triple-negative breast cancer is more difficult to treat than other types of breast cancer and has high recurrence and metastasis rates.

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, as follows:

  • Studies suggest that 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.

Recurrence after mastectomy

Doctors consider triple-negative breast cancer more aggressive than other types of breast cancer.

The average time it takes this type of breast cancer to recur is 19–40 months, compared to 35–67 months for other types of breast cancer.

Therefore, doctors 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 2012–2018. In general, it has a lower survival rate than other types of breast cancer.

How they are calculated

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

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

How long do people with triple-negative breast cancer live?

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

Stage5-year survival rate

Post-recurrence survival

A number of studies have found that if cancer recurs, the mortality rate within 3 months after the recurrence is as high as 75%.

That said, if the cancer does not recur within 5 years after the initial diagnosis, the rate of recurrence goes down to only 3%.

Survival rate limitations

Cancer 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.

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:

In addition, antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) is an emerging therapy that can be used for triple-negative breast cancer. It includes medications such as sacituzumab govitecan (Trodelvy) and trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu).

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 annual mammograms. They also say females assigned at birth (FAAB) aged 40–44 should have the option to start having annual mammograms.

In addition, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that all FAABs start to get breast cancer screenings in their 40s.

Can you live 20 years after triple-negative breast cancer?

It is not impossible to live for 20 years after triple-negative breast cancer. Given how aggressive this cancer can be, survival rates are lower in the first years after diagnosis. After 20 years, the survival rate may be around 83.7%.

That said, this study focused on women who have the BRCA2 gene and looked at a small sample size. There is limited data examining survival after 2 decades, likely because surviving for 20 years with triple-negative cancer is uncommon.

Can triple-negative breast cancer come back after 10 years?

A 2018 Dutch population-based study found that the 10-year recurrence rate was 7.1%.

How often does triple-negative cancer come back?

According to a 2019 study, about 40% of people living with stage 1 to stage 3 will have a recurrence after treatment.

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 Bezzy Breast Cancer 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.