Some breast cancers have receptor cells that respond to hormones. There are three main types of receptors:

  • estrogen receptor
  • progesterone receptor
  • human epidermal growth factor receptor 2

Doctors diagnose breast cancer by identifying which receptor is present. They run a series of tests for each of the three receptors, and these will return either positive or negative results.

When a person has breast cancer, but all of these results come back negative, doctors diagnose the person with triple-negative breast cancer.

Many treatments aim to block one or more of the three receptors. When results for all three are negative, hormone-based medications are not an effective option. Instead, a doctor will recommend other treatments, such as chemotherapy.

As with other breast cancers, the success of treatment for triple-negative breast cancer depends on the size of the tumor and how pervasive it is.

There are fewer treatment options for triple-negative breast cancer, and it is more likely to spread and recur than other types of the disease.

Read on for more information about triple-negative breast cancer and what to expect.

Recurrence rates

A review from 2018, published in the British Journal of Cancer , analyzed data from people with triple-negative breast cancer. The results indicated that if someone survived for 5 years following treatment of the disease, there was a low probability of it recurring in the next 10 years.

Doctors believe that certain factors affect recurrence rates of triple-negative as well as other types of breast cancer.

Some factors that may increase the likelihood of recurrence include:

  • larger tumors
  • initial diagnosis when a person is 35 years old or younger
  • lumpectomy without radiation
  • involvement of the lymph nodes

According to specialists, the highest risk of recurrence typically occurs in the first few years following treatment. After 5 years, the risk of recurrence reduces.

People who have triple-negative breast cancer are also more likely to develop metastasis. Metastasis refers to a secondary cancer forming in a different part of the body.

One study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, determined that metastasis was most likely to appear in the brain and lung. The researchers also concluded that survival rates are better when metastasis occurs in the bones.

Hormone therapies are not effective in treating triple-negative breast cancer. Instead, doctors focus on other options.

A treatment plan may include a combination of:

  • radiation
  • chemotherapy
  • surgery

Surgery may involve:

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

Though doctors may refer to triple-negative breast cancer as difficult to treat, people should note that successful treatment depends on how early a doctor detects the cancer and its stage at diagnosis.

Prevention of triple-negative breast cancer

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

While it is impossible to prevent breast cancer, a person can reduce some risks by maintaining a healthful lifestyle, including:

  • not smoking
  • reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption
  • eating healthful, well-balanced meals and snacks
  • doing regular exercise

Also, people should perform self-exams and go for regular checkups and breast cancer screenings. Early detection will help improve the prognosis.


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

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

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