Breast cancer awareness
Triple negative breast cancer
Triple negative breast cancer can occur in about 1 in 5 women with breast cancer
It is more common in women under 40 and, in particular black women
Whilst further research is needed, triple negative breast cancer can develop in women of any age and ethnicity.
Some cancer cells have proteins called receptors. When certain substances in the body attach to the receptors, they trigger a reaction in the cancer cells that tell them to grow. But triple-negative breast cancer are cancers whose cells don't have receptors.
They test negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein.
Your doctor uses a sample of your cancer to test the cells for these receptors. You might have this testing following a biopsy.
A rare type of breast cancer known as basal type breast cancer is usually triple negative. Some women with triple negative breast cancer also have a BRCA1 gene fault. BRCA1 is one of the gene faults that can increase the risk of breast cancer within families.
Some men can also have triple negative breast cancer but this is very rare. Most men have oestrogen receptors in their cancer cells.
What are the risk factors to be aware of?
The risk factors are not clear because most women with triple negative breast cancer don't have a strong history of breast cancer in their family. But some women can have an altered BRCA1 gene which will have been inherited from a parent. An altered BRCA 1 gene can cause breast cancer to run in families.
Most breast cancers caused by BRCA1 are triple negative.
If you have triple negative breast cancer, you may be offered genetic testing. Your cancer doctor or breast care nurse will advise you on this.
Symptoms include any of the following:
a new lump or thickening in your breast or armpit
a change in size, shape or feel of your breast
skin changes in the breast such as puckering, dimpling, a rash or redness of the skin
fluid leaking from the nipple in a woman who isn’t pregnant or breast feeding
changes in the position of nipple
Action to take:
In many women, the cancer is found during breast screening but due to the current backlog in hospital breast screening appointments due to Covid-19, it is highly advisable that if you detect an unusual lump in your breast that wasn't there before, that you self refer to your GP to check on your symptoms as soon as possible. This is purely precautionary and will remove any self doubt that you may have.
If you receive a breast screening letter from the NHS and fall into that higher risk, it is even more important that you take the time to attend your appointment. People from BME groups who are at risk of family linked cancer are less likely to access screening if they have that higher risk incidence. This can be due to a difficulty discussing cancer and genetic risk with their family, language barriers or cultural differences including a stigma around having cancer. Read Bami's story.
Read our FAQs section
Visit our breast cancer toolkit
Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Clinical guideline 101. July 2018.
Advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and treatment. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Clinical guideline 81. August 2017.