Triple Negative Breast Cancer, a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer, affects women of African descent 3 times more than Caucasians or HispanicsWhat is Triple Negative Breast Cancer?
Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for 15-20 percent of all breast cancers and by definition, lacks the three receptors that fuel most breast cancers: estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). The lack of receptors complicates therapy options because many of the targeted breast cancer therapies are directed at these three receptors. Even when a chemotherapy regimen is appropriate, TNBC is often more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. Initially, the tumor responds well to chemotherapy but is more likely to relapse and metastasize.
How Does Triple Negative Breast Cancer Affect African American Women?
Research shows that TNBC affects certain populations of women more than others; it is more common in African American women, younger women, and women who carry a BRCA1 gene mutation. Women of African descent are up to three times more likely than Caucasian or Hispanic women to be diagnosed with TNBC. In addition, TNBC in African American women tends to be more aggressive, is diagnosed at a later stage, and carries poorer survival outcomes compared to Caucasian women.
How is Komen Addressing the Problem?
Komen has awarded more than 90 research grants totaling more than $66 million looking into the causes and treatments for TNBC since it was identified as a distinct subtype in 2006. Of these, 11 grants focus specifically on TNBC in African American women, representing $14.5 million of Komen’s research investment. Two of these grants are Promise grants. One is defining the molecular differences among breast cancer stem cells in Black African, African American, and Caucasian women with TNBC and will then test new drugs that target the breast cancer stem cells as a potential therapy for TNBC. The other aims to enhance the efficacy of chemotherapy in TNBC and basal-like breast cancer by targeting immune cells.
Other funded research projects focus on:
- Understanding the biology of TNBC and how it develops/progresses, including the connection between BRCA1 and TNBC
- Understanding the role of health disparities in TNBC, particularly in African American and African populations
- Discovering biomarkers to help diagnose TNBC or predict risk, prognosis, or response to therapies
- Developing strategies for preventing TNBC including chemoprevention and ways of mimicking an early pregnancy and/or breastfeeding
- Developing and improving preclinical models of TNBC
- Studying the genes and factors that contribute to the spread of TNBC to lungs, liver, brain, and bone
- Developing new and more effective therapies for TNBC
- Developing strategies to increase TNBC susceptibility to existing chemotherapies