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Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for about 10-15% of all breast cancers. The term triple-negative breast cancer refers to the fact that the cancer cells don’t have estrogen or progesterone receptors (ER or PR) and also don’t make any or too much of the protein called HER2. (The cells test "negative" on all 3 tests.) These cancers tend to be more common in women younger than age 40, who are Black, or who have a BRCA1 mutation.
TNBC differs from other types of invasive breast cancer in that it tends to grow and spread faster, has fewer treatment options, and tends to have a worse prognosis (outlook).
Triple-negative breast cancer can have the same signs and symptoms as other common types of breast cancer.
Once a breast cancer diagnosis has been made using imaging tests and a biopsy, the cancer cells will be checked for certain proteins. If the cells do not have estrogen or progesterone receptors (ER or PR), and also do not make any or too much of the HER2 protein, the cancer is considered to be triple-negative breast cancer.
TNBC tends to grow quickly, is more likely to have spread at the time it’s found, and is more likely to come back after treatment than other types of breast cancer. Because of this, the survival rates for TNBC are generally not quite as high as they are for other types of breast cancer.
Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.
Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk with your doctor about how these numbers may apply to you, as they are familiar with your situation.
A relative survival rate compares women with the same type and stage of breast cancer to women in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of breast cancer is 90%, it means that women who have that cancer are, on average, about 90% as likely as women who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.
The American Cancer Society relies on information from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to provide survival statistics for different types of cancer.
The SEER database tracks 5-year relative survival rates for breast cancer in the United States, based on how far the cancer has spread. The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by AJCC TNM stages (stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, etc.). Instead, it groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages:
These numbers are based on women diagnosed with TNBC between 2012 and 2018.
5-year Relative Survival Rate
|All stages combined||
Triple-negative breast cancer has fewer treatment options than other types of invasive breast cancer. This is because the cancer cells do not have the estrogen or progesterone receptors or enough of the HER2 protein to make hormone therapy or targeted HER2 drugs work. Because hormone therapy and anti-HER2 drugs are not choices for women with triple-negative breast cancer, chemotherapy is often used.
If the cancer has not spread to distant sites, surgery is an option. Chemotherapy might be given first to shrink a large tumor, followed by surgery. Chemotherapy is often recommended after surgery to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back. Radiation might also be an option depending on certain features of the tumor and the type of surgery you had.
In cases where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body (stage IV), platinum chemotherapy, targeted drugs like a PARP inhibitor or antibody-drug conjugate, or immunotherapy with chemotherapy might be considered.
For details, see Treatment of Triple-negative Breast Cancer.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Anders CK and Carey LA. ER/PR negative, HER2-negative (triple-negative) breast cancer. In Vora SR, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, Mass.: UpToDate, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com. Last updated July 21, 2021. Accessed August 30, 2021.
Henry NL, Shah PD, Haider I, Freer PE, Jagsi R, Sabel MS. Chapter 88: Cancer of the Breast. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.
Jagsi R, King TA, Lehman C, Morrow M, Harris JR, Burstein HJ. Chapter 79: Malignant Tumors of the Breast. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019.
Jhan JR, Andrechek ER. Triple-negative breast cancer and the potential for targeted therapy. Pharmacogenomics. 2017;18(17):1595–1609.
Li X, Yang J, Peng L, Sahin AA, Huo L, Ward KC, O'Regan R, Torres MA, Meisel JL. Triple-negative breast cancer has worse overall survival and cause-specific survival than non-triple-negative breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2017 Jan;161(2):279-287.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Breast Cancer. Version 7.2021. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/breast.pdf on August 30, 2021.
SEER*Explorer: An interactive website for SEER cancer statistics [Internet]. Surveillance Research Program, National Cancer Institute. Accessed at https://seer.cancer.gov/explorer/ on February 23, 2023.
Last Revised: March 1, 2023
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