The American Cancer Society explains new classifications of breast cancer based on genetic research on its Web site.
I quote them directly below.
The current types of breast cancer are based largely on how tumors look under a microscope. A newer classification, based on molecular features, may be better able to predict prognosis and response to several types of breast cancer treatment. The new research suggests there are 4 basic types of breast cancers:
Luminal A and luminal B types: The luminal types are estrogen receptor (ER)-positive, usually low grade, and tend to grow fairly slowly. The gene expression patterns of these cancers are similar to normal cells that line the breast ducts and glands (the lining of a duct or gland is called its lumen). Luminal A cancers have the best prognosis. Luminal B cancers generally grow somewhat faster than the luminal A cancers and their prognosis is not quite as good.
HER2 type: These cancers have extra copies of the HER2 gene and several other genes. They usually have a high-grade appearance under the microscope. These cancers tend to grow more quickly and have a worse prognosis, although they often can be treated successfully with targeted therapies such as trastuzumab (Herceptin) and lapatinib (Tykerb).
Basal type: Most of these cancers are of the so-called “triple negative” type — that is, they lack estrogen or progesterone receptors and have normal amounts of HER2. The gene expression patterns of these cancers are similar to cells in the deeper basal layers of breast ducts and glands. This type is more common among women with BRCA1 gene mutations. For reasons that are not well understood, this cancer is also more common among younger and African-American women.
These are high-grade cancers that tend to grow quickly and have a poor prognosis. Hormone therapy and anti-HER2 therapies like trastuzumab and lapatinib are not effective against these cancers, although chemotherapy can be helpful. A great deal of research is being done to find better ways to treat these cancers.
It is hoped that these new breast cancer classifications might someday allow doctors to better tailor breast cancer treatments, but more research is needed in this area before this is possible.
Read more about TNBC in my book, Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.