I sent this to the NewYork Times Magazine today, in response to Peggy Orenstein’s “Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer,” published last Sunday, April 28. 2013).

Women with triple-negative breast cancer throughout the country groaned when they saw Peggy Orenstein’s blithe mischaracterization of this type of breast cancer.  She uses the typical shorthand terms “aggressive” and “lethal” to define TNBC, a complex set of diseases that, in many cases, are no more aggressive than other forms of breast cancer. And TNBC is seldom lethal.  Non-metastatic TNBC has an impressive survival rate—as high as 87 percent in some studies. And Her2-positive can be more aggressive than TNBC, as can some forms of hormone-positive breast cancer.
Likewise, triple-negative is not synonymous with basal-like.   There is a strong association between the two, but not all TNBC tumors are basal-like and not all basal-like tumors are triple-negative.
All breast cancers can be aggressive and all can be lethal, but no one type is automatically both. Writers who use such fearful language ignore the psychological impact of their words on women who are already terrified and confused. The fact is that the great majority of women with TNBC survive and go on to live long, meaningful lives. 
Words matter, as do facts.

9 thoughts on “To the NY Times: TNBC is not automatically aggressive and is seldom lethal.

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was told aggressive and it scared the crap out of me. But, then I find out that it was caught early and I have 85% of it not returning (no lymnods).good article.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am a frenchwoman living in Paris. You gave me hope 3 years ago after my surgery and only founding horrible tips about triple negative brest cancer on the french net. 3years now ! Thank you so much for being you !ghdavid1@orange.fr

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the article, very informative.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Awesome! Going on 3 years after Stage3, Grade3 TNBC! God is Good!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Very well said, Pat (and Jane) … I am NOT a survivor, I tell people, I am a Warrior Goddess :)As you so succinctly state : Words matter. So do facts!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for setting this writer straight. Thank God you are out there for us.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Well said! Thank you from a fellow TNBC survivor.

  8. Anonymous says:

    So very well said, Pat… as usual.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The language surrounding cancer in general is such an issue. As a Stage 1 “survivor” I feel it overstates my situation. But more importantly, I think having words like “survivor” (as well as “lethal” and “aggressive”) create as much fear as they do comfort. It's like, you are a survivor or you aren't. That'll scare the hell out of people you tell that you have cancer, particularly your children.

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