How Triple Negative Breast Cancer Treatment Paths Differ From Others

Explaining the diagnosis
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Many of us travel a similar path after being diagnosed with breast cancer. About 80 percent of us are diagnosed with the most common breast cancer type, called Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). It is  sometimes referred  to as Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma. With IDC, the cancer begins within a breast duct, eventually breaking out of the duct and invading breast tissue.

Those of us diagnosed with IDC have a treatment path that will usually include either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy to remove the cancer. If a cancer is determined to be at an early stage, it may not need to be treated with chemotherapy. A lumpectomy will be followed by a required course of radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy may be necessary if a tumor is large, or cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes. Eventually, we will reach the end of active treatment. If our cancer tested positive for estrogen, our medical oncologist will strongly recommend a course of hormone therapy, which entails taking a pill every day, usually for 5 years, to reduce the chances of having a breast cancer recurrence.

Rare Breast Cancers

Women diagnosed with rare and very aggressive cancers; women and men who test positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation; women diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant, and women and men with metastatic breast cancer, have paths that are long and sometimes unending.

When it comes to rare types of breast cancers, it may take several months before an accurate diagnosis is made.

In the case of women with Paget’s Disease of the Nipple, the symptoms are often mistaken for eczema because of the severe skin rash or are misdiagnosed as an infection or other skin condition. Months go by before a correct diagnosis; months during which the cancer continues to grow.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer, which presents with symptoms such as a rash and possibly an orange peel appearance, is also often mistaken for other conditions such as mastitis. These incorrect diagnoses often result in women having late stage cancers by the time they are diagnosed correctly.

Women diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer share some similar treatments as those of us diagnosed with more common types of breast cancers, but the course of treatment may be longer, more aggressive, and require closer follow-up after completing active treatment. Hormone therapy is not effective as a treatment in reducing the incidence of recurrence of this type of breast cancer.

Both women and men can test positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation. In addition to being treated for the breast cancer itself, a woman’s treatment path may include making choices that include having both breasts removed and her ovaries. Since men can be carriers of the BRCA genes, they, as well as women who are carriers, must decide how and when to tell their children about having the mutation. Children of BRCA carriers need to be given the option to get tested. If they are carrying the gene mutation, they need to be educated about how they can reduce their risk of getting breast cancer.

Breast Cancer During Pregnancy

A woman that gets a breast cancer diagnosis while pregnant has a treatment path that includes some very hard choices. Does she terminate an early pregnancy and begin treatment immediately? Does she choose to carry the child full term before beginning treatment?  Does she continue her pregnancy and choose to undergo treatment if her medical care team feels it is safe to do so?

A Final Word

For women and men who are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer their treatment path is never ending. For them breast cancer is a chronic disease with ongoing treatment, not just to prolong life, but to provide a quality of life.

While it may be unrealistic to expect to find support groups locally for each of these “paths less traveled” circumstances, the Internet can be a good resource when it comes to finding sites that provide support and put women and men in touch with others living and coping with these breast cancers.

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