aggressive breast cancer
Breast Cancer

Understanding Aggressive Breast Cancer

Harder-to-treat breast cancers more likely to impact black women

Black women are no strangers to developing aggressive breast cancer — both inflammatory and triple-negative. These cancers are harder to treat and impact our survival rates. Read more about the types of aggressive cancers out there, how they impact black women and new treatment developments.

A North Carolina Breast Cancer Study found that triple-negative breast cancer was much higher among younger African-American women than in white women (39 percent for blacks versus 16 percent for whites). Also, 10 percent of black women have inflammatory breast cancer compared to 1 percent to 5 percent of white women. Obesity is linked to these cancers and younger black women—35 and younger—are vulnerable to these cancers as well.

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of breast cancer that accounts for less than 5 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. It blocks the vessels in the skin that carry lymph fluid throughout the body. This form of cancer causes the breasts to look swollen and red.

Patients with inflammatory breast cancer may experience red and swollen breasts, bruised skin around the breasts, swollen lymph nodes in underarms, burning sensations and increased breast size. The skin may also look pitted like an orange because the fluid is all backed up and the nipple may also face inward.

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How serious is it? Very. Women diagnosed with this form do not live as long as women with other types of this disease. Inflammatory breast cancer can develop and progress in a few weeks or months. For many women, when they are diagnosed with this form, they are already in stage III or IV, and the cancer may have spread to other lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Even though it can be harder to treat, usually the first step is chemotherapy—drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells—then surgery to remove the tumors, followed up with radiation therapy. There has been a call by many researchers to get more funding to advance the current treatment.

Triple-negative breast cancer lacks the most common receptors that fuel most breast cancer growth—estrogen, progesterone and the HER-2/neu gene—making it “triple negative.” Because these tumors lack these receptors, it’s harder to treat this form of cancer with the traditional hormone therapy. This cancer accounts for 10 percent to 20 percent of all diagnoses.

This particular cancer doesn’t really look much different from other forms; it just has some different characteristics. Only testing will tell you if have this form.

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