Triple negative breast cancer is the most aggressive and difficult type of breast cancer to treat. It is found in 20% of cases of patients with breast cancer.
There are three fundamental types of breast cancer , classified according to the presence or absence of three receptors in cancer cells. So in the first place, we will make clear what a cellular receptor is.
Importance of cellular receptors
The cells of our body must communicate with their environment. They need to be able to receive signals that inform them of the conditions of the environment in which they find themselves, in order to act accordingly.
For this communication to be possible, 3 elements are necessary:
- A signal molecule that is in the cell’s environment and when it detects it causes a response.
- A receptor , that is, a protein present in the membrane of the cell capable of detecting the signal molecule and transferring the information to the cellular interior.
- Certain factors and molecules inside the cell with the capacity to respond to the signal that has been transmitted from the outside of the cell.
Thus, the receptors are fundamental to regulate many cellular processes. Specifically, in the case of cell growth, there are receptors that detect growth factors , such as hormones (signal molecules) and transmit this information to the cell so that it grows and divides.
The problem of cancers, and among them breast cancer, is that cancer cells do not have this mechanism controlled . Their receptors are activated when they should not and the cells proliferate uncontrollably.
But this aspect that gives the cancer cells the high capacity of division is also an excellent target to control cancer , using drugs against these receptors.
Types of breast cancer depending on their receptors
Both in normal cells and in most cancer cells we find the so-called hormone receptors. These receptors, as the name suggests, detect hormones.
Breast cancers positive for hormone receptors can be treated by attacking precisely these receptors. Thus, through hormone therapy, the proliferation of cancer cells can be slowed down or even completely stopped.
In breast cancers positive for HER2, cancer cells have a high amount of these receptors so these cells divide uncontrollably.
But again, this offers a clear target for the treatment of such cancers. By attacking their HER2 receptors by hormonal therapy we could slow down the progress of cancer.
Triple negative breast cancer
The peculiarity of this type of breast cancer so aggressive, is that it is negative for both the hormone receptors of estrogen and progesterone, as for the HER2 receptors.
That is, the proliferation of this type of cancer cells is not linked to hormonal receptors. Something that occurs in around 10-20% of cases of breast cancer.
This implies, in the face of a treatment, the absence of targets or “weak points” to attack said cancer. This is the reason for their poor prognosis, compared to the other types of breast cancer.
In addition, triple-negative breast cancer is usually more aggressive, because it is more likely to spread outside the breast, causing metastasis. Moreover, this type of cancer is usually recurrent, that is, it can return even after treatment.
However, all is not lost when it comes to treating triple negative breast cancer. There are still other types of very useful treatments, such as chemotherapy , radiotherapy or surgery.
Finally, despite the fact that the most common treatments for other types of breast cancer have no effect in the case of triple negative breast cancer, this does not imply the absence of other types of targets to attack in these cases.
In fact, more and more alternative treatments have emerged to treat triple negative breast cancer and research in this field continues to advance in order to discover new therapeutic strategies.