For those of you who have not yet Googled it, or those who did but may not quite understand what it means to be “triple negative”, I hope this post will help enlighten you.
Breast cancer is not a generic disease. There are various known sub-types (and no telling how many unknown sub-types). Currently, one way the disease is classified is based on your hormone receptor status.
There are three common “receptors” known to be present on breast cancer tumors. The receptor status determines what they want to eat. I’m no doctor, but I tend to think of the receptors as the mouths of the tumor.There are three identified “meals” that breast cancer tumors feast on:
1. Estrogen hormone
2. Progesterone hormone
3. HER2 protein (this is a protein that everyone’s body creates but in some people it can have a mutation and over-express the protein).
When you receive the results of your pathology report on your tumor, it indicates which receptors are found on your tumor. Knowing this information identifies the sub-type of breast cancer and also helps determine your treatment path.
If you are estrogen or progesterone positive (also known as ER+/PR+), there are additional medications (hormone blockers) you can take on a long term basis to help prevent a recurrence. If they know estrogen or progesterone is feeding it,it only makes sense to block your body from creating too much of it. If you are HER2+, there is an additional drug you can take to prevent overproduction of the HER2 protein. This also helps in preventing recurrences.
You can be positive or negative for any combination of these three receptors. Some people are triple positive. Some have one or two but not the others. Obviously, any medications you can take long term to prevent a recurrence is desirable. However, if you are what is considered Triple Negative (like me), you are negative for all three of these receptors. This means no additional medications to prevent recurrence. The medications available are not helpful in triple negative cases.
Triple negative breast cancer is also known to be more aggressive than the other types. That makes it an even bigger bummer that there aren’t additional meds. It also has a higher rate of recurrence and a faster rate of recurrence. From what I have read and been told, it typically recurs within the first two years. And, if it is going to recur, most likely it will be by five years. If you can cross the five year mark with Triple Negative with no recurrence, then your chances of a recurrence after five years are actually lower than those of the more desirable receptor statuses.
So what can I do? There are lots of opinions, but from most of what I am reading, I can use diet and exercise as my “medication” to help prevent recurrence. I don’t have a link to the study, but I’ve read that a very specific, strict diet (a mostly plant based, close to the earth diet) and 4-5 hours of exercise per week can reduce your chance of recurrence by 60%. I’ll take that. I’ve already implemented the new diet partially, although my chemo diet is a little more flexible than my post chemo diet will be. It can’t hurt right?
When my oncologist first told me she suspected my cancer would be triple negative (before we had pathology results), I asked her to level with me about it being the worst kind to have. I’d already done the research. I knew what the internet said. It doesn’t sound very good. She responded to me that every type has its pros and cons, and that a best case scenario could be drawn on any sub-type of breast cancer. Since she said that, I’ve tried not to focus on the negatives and instead focus on what I can do to remove it from my body and keep it from ever coming back.