Triple-negative breast cancer: Recurrence and survival rates

Jenna Fletcher   
by Christina Chun, MPH
rates | Survival statistics | Risks and symptoms | Treatment and prevention | Outlook
Triple-negative breast cancer
is an aggressive form of the disease. To understand it, a person should know
about the other types of breast cancer.

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

  • 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
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.
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
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.
According to,
triple-negative breast cancer accounts for 10–20 percent of all breast cancers.
The organization also states
that 1 out of every 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast
cancer at some point.
Doctors base survival rates on
the percentage of people who are still alive at least 5 years after they
received a diagnosis.
However, survival rates have
some limitations:

  • Doctors base the rates on a
    5-year time gap, so women who have received recent diagnoses may have a higher
    survival rate because of advancements in treatment.
  • They do not take recurrence,
    metastasis, or substages of cancer into account.
  • Individual factors, such as
    age and overall health, play a role in how long a person may survive.
Doctors calculate survival
rates according to the stage of the cancer when the person received the
The American Cancer Society
report the following 5-year survival rates for breast cancer:

  • stage 0 to 1 — near 100
    percent survival rate
  • stage 2 — about 93 percent
    survival rate
  • stage 3 — 72 percent survival
  • stage 4 (metastatic) — 22
    percent survival rate
According to BreastCancer.Org,
doctors typically class triple-negative breast cancer as grade 3. Anyone with
this diagnosis should speak to the doctor about how their unique conditions
affect the estimation of survival.
and symptoms
Certain people are more
susceptible to developing triple-negative breast cancer. Some risk factors are
unavoidable, while others are lifestyle-related.
Risk factors include:

  • being African-American or
  • being under 50 years old
  • having the breast cancer type
    1 susceptibility protein, which is often called the BRCA1 mutation
  • not breastfeeding
  • being obese or overweight
  • breast density
Symptoms of triple-negative
breast cancer
The signs and symptoms of
triple-negative breast cancer are similar to those of other types of breast
Some of the most common
symptoms include:

  • a lump or mass appearing in
    the breast or around it
  • inverted nipples that may leak
  • redness or pain in the breast
Treatment and prevention

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.
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.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.