Who Is Most Likely to Get Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?

Blacks, Hispanics, women under 40 face largest risk

Posted Jul 17, 2019

Patricia Prijatel
Source: Patricia Prijatel

In an extensive survey of more than a million cases of breast cancer diagnosed between 2010 and 2014, researchers have reaffirmed that triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is most likely to affect black and Hispanic women and women younger than 40. This is nothing new, but the large number of the group studied gives significant support to previous research. According to the study, published in the journal Cancer, 8.4 percent of all cases were triple-negative, a smaller number than in previous research that showed that 10-20 percent of all breast cancer cases were TNBC.

•Compared to non-Hispanic white women:

• Black women who got breast cancer were 2.3 times more likely to get TNBC. More than 21 percent of non-Hispanic black women were diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, compared with less than 11 percent for all other types of breast cancer. 

• Hispanic women were 1.2-times more likely to get TNBC.

•Women younger than 40 had twice the chance of being diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer than older women (50–64). This, of course, does not mean only younger women get it. I was 60 at diagnosis.  

•Those diagnosed at late stages were 69 percent more likely to have triple-negative cancer than other types.  With more focus on detection, cancers are increasingly being detected at earlier stages, which is especially important for TNBC. The smaller the cancer, the easier it is to treat, although new regimens can handle later-stage cancers much better than in the past.

“With the advent and availability of more comprehensive cancer data, such as the United States Cancer Statistics database, it is important that we continue to explore disparities in order to better inform practice and policy around screenable cancers like breast cancer,” said lead researcher Lia Scott, PhD, MPH, of the Georgia State University School of Public Health. “We hope that this update on the epidemiology of triple-negative breast cancer can provide a basis to further explore contributing factors in future research.”

Triple-negative breast cancer gets its name because of tumors of this subtype lacks receptors for estrogen, progesterone, and the human growth hormone Her2/neu. Because of that it also lacks a targeted therapy, such as tamoxifen, which blocks the effects of estrogen, Arimidex, which prevents the production of estrogen, or Herceptin, which treats her/2-positive tumors.

[NOTE: Kudos to whoever wrote the news release for Wiley Cancer Newsroom that states that triple-negative breast cancers “are often aggressive.” Just the addition of that word, often, makes such a difference. Yes, TNBC can be aggressive, but it is not always so. In the past, such releases simple said it is automatically aggressive, even lethal, which terrified women and made them conclude they could not survive the disease. It’s nice to see nuance in the reporting to calm our nervous souls. This disease is nothing to mess with, but most women do beat it. A little modifier means big progress, to those of us who have been fighting this particular battle of words for years.]


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“Update on triple-negative breast cancer disparities for the United States – a population-based study from the United States Cancer Statistics database, 2010-2014.” Lia Scott, Lee Mobley, Tzy-Mey Kuo, and Dora Il’yasova. CANCER; Published Online: July 8, 2019 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.32207).