Breast cancer can be broken down into different stages and types. The stages begin at stage 0 (also called DCIS or pre-cancer), where the cancer cells are still in the milk ducts and haven’t yet spread to the breast tissue, and cap at stage 4 (also called metastatic), where the cancer cells have spread to other areas of the body, like the lungs, liver, bones, or brain. To learn more about the different stages of breast cancer, check out our list here.
This list delves into three of the more unusual forms of the disease that occur less frequently.
Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC)
About 10-20% of all breast cancers are called triple negative, or metaplastic breast cancer. To understand what TNBC is, you have to understand what typically fuels the growth of a healthy or cancerous cell in the breast; the three bodily chemicals that are primarily responsible are estrogen, progesterone, and the HER2/neu protein.
Triple negative cancer cells, however, lack receptors for all three of these bodily chemicals. This first video explains these receptors and how they impact treatment options.
Because triple negative cells lack receptors for estrogen and progesterone, and typically have few if any HER2/nue receptors, it makes treatment more difficult. Without hormone therapy or HER2-targeting drugs, TNBC patients often must undergo chemotherapy. They also have a poorer prognosis after five years than their counterparts who have hormone-positive breast cancer.
However, there’s research being done. In a study involving 3,000 patients, doctors were able to determine that 8 out of 10 patients with triple negative breast cancer have the BCL11A gene. This will hopefully lead to the creation of targeted gene therapy for triple negative patients.
To learn more about triple negative breast cancer, watch the video.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)
Inflammatory breast cancer is an aggressive but, fortunately, uncommon type of cancer. IBC occurs when abnormal cells infiltrate the skin and lymph nodes in the breast. The breast typically reacts by becoming red, swollen, and warm to the touch. About 1-5% of all breast cancer cases fall in this category.
IBC tumors are often estrogen receptor-negative and HER2/neu-positive. Because these breast cancers are aggressive, they are often diagnosed at later stages. For most women with IBC, the cancer will at least spread to their lymph nodes. Unfortunately, about 25-30% of IBC patients already have metastatic breast cancer at the time of diagnosis. This means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, like the liver, lungs, bone, or brain.
This type of cancer usually does not present itself as a distinct lump, and grows quickly. Patients with this type are diagnosed as either stage 3b, 3c, or even stage 4.
Watch the video to learn more.
Breast Cancer During Pregnancy
Getting a breast cancer diagnosis while pregnant can be especially anxiety-inducing because there is additional concern about the safety of your unborn child. Treatment will depend on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the term of your pregnancy. You may be able to wait to begin treatment until after the pregnancy, or they may be able to offer some treatments during the course of the pregnancy that will not harm your baby.
It may seem like the rate of breast cancer during pregnancy is increasing, which is alarming to women in their childbearing years. However, more and more women are waiting to get married and have kids; whether they want to focus on themselves, their careers, or their relationships. So it’s not being pregnant that increases breast cancer risk, it’s age, because more and more women are waiting until they’re older to start a family.
To learn more about what age that risk begins to increase, check out our post here. To learn more about breast cancer during pregnancy, watch the animation below.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.