It’s maddening that come patients are being denied the hope they need when diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). Mind you, TNBC is nothing to mess with, but my mantra through my 13 years living through and writing about the disease is, “Most women with TNBC survive and go on to live full lives.” I’ve heard that fact spoken by numerous top researchers through the years. And we have the evidence to support that statement.

So let’s talk about a few facts that may help settle some fears.

1. The disease-free survival rate five years after diagnosis for TNBC is 77 percent. Yes, that is not as good as hormone-positive cancer (93 percent), but it means the odds are still seriously in your favor. And in some studies, the survival rate for TNBC was as high as 85 percent. With continued research, improved tools for early diagnosis, and new treatment options, survival rates for women being treated now are likely to be much higher than that.  

2. If TNBC is going to recur, it will usually do so within the first three years after diagnosis.  

3. After five years, your chances of recurrence are minimal. Ninety-seven percent—as in almost all—of those who survived five years recurrence-free remained so after ten years and 95 percent were recurrence-free after 15 years.  

4. Survival rates are measured from time of diagnosis, so you may be closer than you think to the magic five years.

5. If you have a second cancer, especially several years after your original diagnosis, it might be a second primary, and not a recurrence.  I repeat: Not a recurrence. With a second primary, you’re just starting from the beginning, with a new cancer. Not ideal, but a with significantly better prognosis than a recurrence. Some types of cancer treatment, such as chemo and radiation, can make you more susceptible to a second primary. I have survived the first diagnosis for 13 years and the second for four years, with no signs of disease.

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For More Research:

Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer: Hope, Treatment and Recovery, by Patricia Prijatel. (That’s me.)

Long-term survival outcomes of triple-receptor negative breast cancer survivors who are disease free at 5 years and relationship with low hormone receptor positivity, British Journal of Cancer. January 2018

Predictive factors and patterns of recurrence in patients with triple negative breast cancer. Annals of Surgical Oncology, February 2014

Constructing a Clinicopathologic Prognostic Model for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer, Physician Education Resource, 2017

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer: Clinical Features and Patterns of Recurrence, Dent et al. Clinical Cancer Research, August 2007

Understanding Statistics Used to Guide Prognosis and Evaluate Treatment, American Society of Clinical Oncology.   

Assessing the prognostic factors, survival, and recurrence incidence of triple negative breast cancer patients, a single center study in Iran. PLOS1, January 2019

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