Laura Renegar learned a lot about breast cancer before her mother died of the disease. So, when Renegar was diagnosed in 2011, she knew what to ask after getting a dreaded test result: Does this mean Im triple negative? The answer: yes.
Thats a description for a type of breast cancer that is relatively rare, aggressive and more likely to recur than some other breast cancers for which there are newer, targeted drug therapies.
After surgery and chemotherapy, Renegar had no follow-up treatment like that offered to some other breast cancer patients. Her doctor said she didnt need to come back unless she developed symptoms. By then, she thought it would be too late.
She felt alone. I had a really hard time finding other triple negative survivors, said Renegar, 49, accounting manager for Primax Properties in Charlotte. I didnt feel like I fit in with other breast cancer support groups.
So this year, she started her own group. Through Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, she met other patients with her diagnosis and today there are 55 members.
In September, they hosted a speaker who manages clinical trials to explain how you get into them. Thats key, Renegar said, because if triple negative breast cancer survivors have a recurrence, most will be looking for trials that offer experimental treatments.
The next speaker, on Oct. 22, will be Dr. Lisa Carey, an expert on triple negative breast cancer and chief of hematology/oncology at North Carolina Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill.
Carey plans a more upbeat message than patients usually find on the Internet. If you Google triple negative breast cancer, you see all sorts of scary stories. In fact, she said: Many, if not most, patients with triple negative breast cancer are cured of their disease.
Subtypes of breast cancer are generally diagnosed based on the presence or absence of three receptors known to fuel cancer. They are estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, called HER2.
Receptors are proteins on the surface of cancer cells that receive signals and cause the cells to grow. The most successful treatments target these receptors.
About 15 percent of breast cancer patients are triple negative, which means they test negative for all three receptors. But even though those cancers dont respond to todays targeted therapies, Carey said many patients respond to traditional chemotherapy.
Carey said researchers are getting a better understanding of triple negative breast cancer. The pipeline is full of things, that should give patients hope for the future.
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