The Dreaded Pink
October is a month designated as ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month.’ Soon, we’ll start seeing pink everywhere. But it wasn’t always like this. The chances of contracting breast cancer were one in sixty women back in the 1960s. Today, it’s a whole different story. Today, the statistics are one in eight will be diagnosed in their lifetime. It makes one sit back and scratch their heads and think, ‘what’s changed?’
I could go on and on about how our food is processed, the pesticides used on our foods, obesity rates at epidemic proportions, the rising of alcohol consumption, and all the chemicals put into making plastic water bottles. Still, I won’t because these reasons are only a portion of what has caused an increase in cancer today.
Today, we have better screening options, so cancer is found early. People live longer, and the older we get, the possibility of cancer is more prevalent, especially breast cancer. But the statistics tell us younger women are being diagnosed at an alarming rate with a subtype called triple-negative breast cancer.
Triple Negative breast cancer (TNBC) is baffling the medical community. No one has pinpointed how or why it starts dividing cells at an abnormal rate. It’s called Triple Negative because the other subtypes of breast cancer, such as DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in situ), IDC (Infiltrating ductal Carcinoma), ILC (Invasive Lobular Carcinoma), or LCIS (Lobular Carcinoma in situ), are caused by excessive hormone levels in a woman’s body such as estrogen and progesterone or a HER2 neu protein.
Receptors are proteins in or on cells that can attach to certain substances in the blood. Normal breast cells and some breast cancer cells have receptors that attach to the hormones estrogen and progesterone and depend on these hormones to grow.
HER2 neu protein helps control how cells grow, divide, and repair themselves. If these levels are high, it’s called HER2 Neu positive breast cancer. A special treatment cocktail is required to alleviate this type of breast cancer along with traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
TNBC means none of these receptors exist in a breast tumor.
TNBC affects mostly younger women before the age of 40. Those commonly affected by this subtype are African American women and Hispanic women, or women who test positive for a gene called BRCA1 mutation. This type of cancer, if found early, can be treated with chemotherapy and radiation but does not respond to hormone therapies after treatment. It tends to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer.
Five-year relative survival rates tend to be lower for TNBC than for other forms of breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, the overall five-year relative survival rate for TNBC is 77 percent. However, an individual’s outlook depends on many factors, including the cancer stage and the grade of the tumor.
In addition to being a woman of a younger age, other risk factors for TNBC include:
Genetics. People born with a mutation of the BRCA gene are more likely to develop TNBC. About 70 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in people with the BRCA mutation are TNBC. Research shows that people with the BRCA1 mutation are more likely to develop TNBC than those with the BRCA2 mutation. Researchers are still trying to understand the link between the BRCA mutations and TNBC. Genetic testing will help you find out if you have this mutation.
Ancestry. Breast cancers diagnosed in African American and Hispanic women are more likely to be TNBC than other groups. Doctors do not entirely understand why. Researchers are exploring the possibility that genetics are involved, including a person’s birthplace and associated ancestry, and lower-income levels and inequities in healthcare.
Perimenopause. Women who have not yet gone through menopause are at higher risk of getting TNBC. Research has not yet found why premenopausal women are at higher risk for TNBC.
Obesity. Obesity is one of the biggest predictors of all breast cancers.
TNBC is also more likely than some other types of breast cancer to return after treatment, especially in the first few years after treatment. There is a sharp decline in the rate of recurrence after the five-year mark.
Though researchers have not yet learned how to prevent TNBC, your best option is to get regular screenings, such as mammograms, and quickly report any unusual symptoms to your healthcare team.
So, save the eye rolls and the heavy sighs whenever you start seeing pink everywhere. There is nothing wrong with awareness. There is nothing wrong with being reminded to watch your diet, exercise, do monthly breast exams, and report anything different to your doctor. You are your best advocate when it comes to your body.
Nothing annoys me more than women who complain about ‘pink ribbon October’ and refuse to talk about breast cancer to the younger generation. These young girls are at risk, and the best person to share this information with is someone in your family: your daughter, your niece, your sister, your mother.
Knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have, the more powerful you become.
Wear your pink proudly; it may save someone’s life.