Triple-negative breast cancers are defined by a lack of expression of oestrogen, progesterone, and ERBB2 receptors. This subgroup accounts for 15% of all types of breast cancer and for a higher percentage of breast cancer arising in African and African-American women who are premenopausal. Because of the absence of specific treatment guidelines for this subgroup, triple-negative breast cancers are managed with standard treatment; however, such treatment leaves them associated with a high rate of local and systemic relapse. Histologically, such cancers are poorly differentiated, and most fall into the basal subgroup of breast cancers, characterised by staining for basal markers (ie, cytokeratin 5/6). Analyses of microarray gene-expression profiling data show that they form a homogeneous group (or so-called cluster) in transcriptional terms and, increasingly, research studies are identifying basal cancers on the basis of exhibiting this distinctive transcriptional profile. Histologically and transcriptionally, triple-negative breast cancers have many similarities to BRCA1-associated breast cancers, which suggests that dysfunction in BRCA1 or related pathways occurs in this subset of sporadic cancers. In this review, we discuss the molecular features of triple-negative breast cancers and consider how the use of existing cytotoxic agents can be optimised for this patient group. We discuss the implications of a possible underlying BRCA1-pathway dysfunction in this subgroup in terms of treatment and we also investigate the predominant proliferative signals and the on-going research addressing the suitability of these signals as therapeutic targets.