What You Need to Know About Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Woman Comforting Daughter with TNBC
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If you are, or planning to be, a caregiver for a loved one recently diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), learning what is different about this subtype of breast cancer will help you better understand your loved one’s needs, and how you can be the most help.

Caregiving can run the gamut of occasional assistance, to part-time assistance, to full-time live-in care, depending on the age of a loved one, the stage of her cancer, her living situation, and her anticipated treatment plan and side effects. A woman who lives alone, has young children, or is a single parent may need more assistance during treatment.

Understanding Triple Negative Breast Cancer

The name triple negative breast cancer identifies this cancer as estrogen negativeprogesterone negative, and HER2 negative. Triple negative breast cancer doesn’t have estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, or HER2 receptors, which are the proteins that fuel the growth of breast cancer.

Breast cancers that are estrogen receptor-positive, progesterone receptor-positive, or HER2 positive respond to targeted treatments that are taken after the end of active treatment as additional protection against having a recurrence. Drugs such as tamoxifen, which targets the estrogen receptor, and trastuzumab (Herceptin), which targets HER2, are not effective in treating triple-negative breast cancer. While research is ongoing to find targeted therapies for triple negative breast cancer, none are currently available to offer additional protection against recurrence.

Consequently, women and men diagnosed with triple negative have a significant fear of recurrence following the end of active treatment. The risk of a recurrence, is greatest in the first five years after being diagnosed. After five years, the risk of recurrence goes down.

Triple-negative breast cancers tend to be more aggressive and spread quicker than most other types of breast cancer. While TNBC may be more difficult to treat because there is no targeted treatment at this time, chemotherapy has proven a successful treatment for most triple negative breast cancers.

TNBC is diagnosed more often in younger women, women of African, Latino, or Caribbean descent, and those with the BRCA mutations. About 15 percent of breast cancers are triple negative. Approximately every half hour, another woman in the US is diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.


Caregiving can take many forms. If a woman is diagnosed with an early stage breast cancer, her needs may include occasional help with practical concerns and not in-home physical care.                                  

Caregiving pre-treatment may include but not be limited to:

  • Note taking during meetings with physicians to discuss treatment
  • Completing insurance claims and other paperwork
  • Researching potential surgeons and oncologists with extensive experience in treating women with triple negative breast cancer
  • Getting to and home from tests
  • Applying for financial assistance
  • Shopping for a wig or other head coverings
  • Prepping living space for optimum convenience and comfort during treatment
  • Listening to your loved one’s fears without trying to control the conversation or saying things such as, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine.” That kind of comment is not helpful; it just prevents the person with cancer from feeling free enough to speak of her fears.
  • Giving emotional support by allowing the person to cry, be angry, or have other reactions to her diagnosis; reassure her that her reactions are understandable, and that you are there for her.

Caregiving During Treatment May Include:

  • Being a “Chemo Buddy” and keeping your loved one company during the long treatment hours
  • Running errands
  • Child care
  • Assistance with household chores
  • Transportation to and from medical visits
  • Accompanying your loved one on a time out from all things breast cancer, such as; a movie, lunch or a shopping trip.
  • Frequent visits during the times when she is not up to going out, but needs a friend.
  • Calling regularly, sending emails, and funny cards reminding her you are there for her and to lift her spirits.
  • Being a “go to” person for emotional support

Caregiver, Take Care of Yourself

If your loved one has young children, or lives alone, she may need someone in her home daily, for several hours or more as she goes through treatment. If you are gong to be the primary caregiver, you need to take care of yourself, or you run the risk of burnout.

Did you know that part of the Family and Medical Leave Act requires that US companies allow family members to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, each year, to care for a husband or wife, parent or child? If you are employed, speak with your employer about protecting your job while taking unpaid leave to be a caregiver.

Speak with the social worker at the hospital or treatment center where your loved one is being treated and ask about ways you can handle your stress. Ask for referrals to community based organizations that provide:

  • Child care assistance so you can shop, run errands or just have time for yourself
  • Financial assistance for caregivers
  • Homemaker assistance
  • A meal delivery service for cancer patient that is free or offered at low cost
  • Online, or phone counseling services to discuss your issues and give you support
  • Support groups for caregivers

A Word From Verywell

While helping with the practical aspects of care is important; the emotional reassurance that can come from an informed and understanding caregiver, at a very frightening time, is invaluable.

Don’t try to do all the caregiving yourself. Reach out to your loved one’s friends and family, neighbors, and community groups and ask for help.

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