Cancer Lesson #61: Three Negatives Don’t Make a Positive

Cancer Lesson #61: Three negatives don’t make a positive.

A few weeks after I finished treatment, one of my favorite cousins was diagnosed with breast cancer, beginning her own journey down the same same scary path I had so recently traveled. But her path took a different turn when she learned her cancer is triple negative.

You see, breast cancer has many variations. Pathology may show a tumor responds (is receptive) to estrogen (ER), progesterone (PR), human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), or any combination of the three.

If cancer is ER or PR positive, hormone inhibitors are used to help prevent recurrence. A cancer that is HER2 positive tends to be more aggressive, and is treated differently. (WebMD has a good explanation of this (http://tinyurl.com/34xafpm).

But my cousin’s cancer is triple negative, meaning it isn’t ER, PR or HER2 positive, hence the name, “Triple Negative Breast Cancer” (TNBC).

Because TNBC isn’t receptive to hormones, hormone inhibitors aren’t a treatment option, so she was treated with a more aggressive chemo regimen than mine, as well as radiation.

I share these facts because people sometimes assume all breast cancer is treated similarly, varying only by stage and/or size of the tumor(s). I hope you understand now this isn’t the case.

And with HER2, it seems not only can a negative be a negative, a positive can be a negative too.

For more information about TNBC, please visit http://www.tnbcfoundation.org/index.html.

Note: I was HER2 negative and slightly ER and PR positive so I take Anastrozole/Arimidex (a hormone inhibitor), which is effective for post-menopausal women. Tamoxifen is used for women who are pre-menopausal. Here’s a good explanation of the differences from the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation website: http://tinyurl.com/m4p7hgb.

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5 thoughts on “Cancer Lesson #61: Three Negatives Don’t Make a Positive

  1. ER/PR have hormone treatment, HER2 has herceptin, but the triple negative is truly scary, because there’s nothing targeted to treat it. I wish her all the very best. And although you and I both had ER/PR+ cancer, our treatments were different, so even where it looks the same on paper, the treatment is tailored. I suppose that’s reassuring….

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    • And it seems research is moving us toward more individualized treatment, which is probably good.. My cousin passed the two year mark, and her doc told her that’s some kind of milestone for TN so I’m very glad about that!

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  2. I was in a room of about 15 breast cancer survivors shortly after I completed treatment. We went around the room and introduced ourselves and our stage/status. I was the last one, and when I said I was ER/PR negative and HER2 positive, the other BC survivors did not even know what I was talking about. That was a shocking day for me.

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    • I admit it was something I had to look up when my cousin was diagnosed. So many variations to try to understand. Thank God for Dr. Susan Love’s book. I bought it and first tried to read it cover to cover. Epic fail. However, I found reading up on whatever was coming next was immensely helpful. I recommend it whenever someone tells me they’ve been diagnosed, or that they have a loved one who has been. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, both here and on my other blog. 🙂

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