Triple negative breast cancers: clinical and prognostic implications

Eur J Cancer. 2009 Sep;45 Suppl 1:27-40. doi: 10.1016/S0959-8049(09)70013-9.


Triple negative breast cancers are defined by the absence of oestrogen, progesterone and HER2 expression. Most triple negative cancers display distinct clinical and pathological characteristics with a high proportion of these tumours occurring at a younger age of onset and in African-American women. Triple negative tumours typically demonstrate high histological grade and are the most common breast cancer subtype in BRCA1 carriers. In addition, many of the features of triple negative cancers are similar to those identified in the basal-like molecular subtype which has recently been characterised by gene expression profiling. Although the two groups overlap, they are not synonymous. Triple negative breast cancers are of pivotal clinical importance given the lack of therapeutic options. The prognostic significance of triple negative tumours remains unclear since the group is heterogeneous and worst prognosis seems to be mostly confined to those that express basal cytokeratins or epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). This review focuses on outlining the pathological, molecular, and clinical features of triple negative breast cancers, discusses its prognostic value and summarises current therapeutic approaches and future directions of research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Female
  • Genes, BRCA1 / physiology
  • Genes, erbB-2 / physiology
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Keratins / metabolism
  • Microarray Analysis
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • RNA, Neoplasm / metabolism
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Receptors, Progesterone / metabolism
  • Risk Factors


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • RNA, Neoplasm
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • Keratins
  • ErbB Receptors