Molecular heterogeneity of triple-negative breast cancer and its clinical implications

Curr Opin Oncol. 2011 Nov;23(6):566-77. doi: 10.1097/CCO.0b013e32834bf8ae.


Purpose of review: Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is defined by a lack of expression of hormone receptors, oestrogen and progesterone, as well as human epidermal factor receptor 2. This review focuses on the increasing understanding of the molecular heterogeneity of TNBC subtypes and the therapeutic implications of this subclassification.

Recent findings: Emerging evidence clearly indicates that TNBC is a heterogeneous disease with varying prognosis according to clinical, pathological and genetic factors. Some distinct histological special types within this clinically defined collection of entities have been shown to have a particularly good prognosis (e.g. medullary carcinomas), and others very poor outcome (e.g. metaplastic carcinomas), whereas the broader immunohistochemically defined 'core-basal-like' or gene expression defined 'basal' groups generally have a poor prognosis. This molecular subclassification has implicated several biological processes as potential therapeutic targets: the DNA damage response, drivers of deregulated proliferation, angiogenesis, epithelial-mesenchymal transition and immune deregulation.

Summary: Molecular stratification of these prognostic groups has been critical in identifying novel therapeutic targets for future drug development. The development of poly-(ADP)ribose polymerase inhibitors for BRCA1-mutation carriers with TNBC has led the ongoing efforts to translate fundamental biological insights into improved therapies for a difficult-to-treat breast cancer subgroup.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / biosynthesis*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / deficiency
  • Receptors, Estrogen / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / deficiency
  • Receptors, Progesterone / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / deficiency


  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • Receptor, ErbB-2