As hard as it is to believe, there was a time when I didn’t know what triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) was. Like most people, I thought breast cancer was a single disease. All that changed when my friend Nancy was diagnosed a little over 10 years ago. At the time, she was only 35.

Fighting to be heard

Back then, there were no advocacy groups focused on this subtype of breast cancer. All the resources we could find ignored the unique needs of women with a triple negative diagnosis – women like Nancy. There was a dire need for a central source of information about the disease, for support services for the thousands of women living with TNBC and for funds to support TNBC-specific research initiatives. The Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation was founded in Nancy’s honor, to fill those needs.

Over the past decade, more patients have been served around the globe than would have been possible before. Millions have been raised to support the TNBC community in a vast array of programs and services specifically designed to address their needs. What’s more, there is now a premium placed on groundbreaking research initiatives aimed at finding targeted treatments and, eventually, a cure for TNBC.

“...research into triple negative breast cancer has the potential to advance our understanding of breast cancer in general and, ultimately, may lead to a breakthrough in treatment for other subtypes of breast cancer as well.”

Prognosis for TNBC patients

Today, there’s genuine progress in the work underway to improve outcomes for patients. Research investments in this area are yielding real results due to the tireless efforts of physicians and scientists. Advocates are working together to empower patients and survivors. I see a community standing strong against this disease and making a real difference in the lives of women living with TNBC. But as any women with a TNBC diagnosis will tell you, there is still much more to be done.

Accounting for 15 to 20 percent of breast cancer cases, TNBC affects a significant number of women, with another woman diagnosed in the U.S. approximately every half hour. TNBC disproportionately affects younger women, those with BRCA gene mutations and women of African American or Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Since triple negative tumors lack the three receptors known to fuel most breast cancers (estrogen, progesterone and HER-2 neu), there is no targeted treatment available to patients diagnosed with this disease. Chemotherapy can be extremely effective, but additional treatment options (particularly targeted therapies) would be game-changers.

I like to think of triple negative breast cancer as the “final frontier” in breast cancer. There is so much that is not known, and yet research into triple negative breast cancer has the potential to advance our understanding of breast cancer in general and, ultimately, may lead to a breakthrough in treatment for other subtypes of breast cancer as well.

That is why steady investment in TNBC research is so critical. In Nancy’s honor, I look forward to continuing the tremendous efforts in this area.