An overview of triple-negative breast cancer

Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2016 Feb;293(2):247-69. doi: 10.1007/s00404-015-3859-y. Epub 2015 Sep 4.


Purpose: Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a heterogeneous group of tumors comprising various breast cancers simply defined by the absence of estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and overexpression of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 gene. In this review, we discuss the epidemiology, risk factors, clinical characteristics and prognostic variables of TNBC, and present the summary of recommended treatment strategies and all other available treatment options.

Methods: We performed a systematic literature search using Medline and selected those articles which seemed relevant for this review. In addition, the was also scanned for ongoing trials.

Results: TNBC accounts for 10-20 % of all invasive breast cancers and has been found to be associated with African-American race, younger age, higher grade and mitotic index, and more advanced stage at diagnosis. Locoregional treatment is similar to other invasive breast cancer subtypes and involves surgery-mastectomy with or without adjuvant radiotherapy or breast conservation followed by adjuvant radiotherapy. Due to lack of drug-targetable receptors, chemotherapy is the only recommended systemic treatment to improve disease outcome. TNBC is sensitive to chemotherapy as demonstrated by high pathological complete response rates achieved after neoadjuvant chemotherapy, and this approach also allows for breast-conserving surgery. The peak risk of relapse is at 3 years after surgery, thereafter recurrence risk rapidly decreases. Survival after metastatic relapse is shorter as compared to other breast cancer subtypes, treatment options are few and response rates are poor and lack durability. Important molecular characteristics have now been identified that can subdivide this group of breast cancers further and can provide alternative systemic therapies.

Conclusions: To improve therapeutic outcome of TNBC, reliable predictive biomarkers and newer drugs against the known molecular pathways are required.

Keywords: Estrogen receptor; Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2; Progesterone receptor; Triple-negative breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mastectomy
  • Mastectomy, Segmental
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / epidemiology
  • Prognosis
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / metabolism*
  • Risk Factors
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / therapy


  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • Receptor, ErbB-2