An explanation of breast cancer in lay mans terms

You may or may not know that breast cancer feeds of various hormones and proteins in the body.

So researchers have discovered that breast cancer can feed on Oestrogen, Progesterone or HER2 a protein found in breast tissue.

A women who’s breast cancer feeds on:-

Oestrogen is said to be ER positive or ER + this is the most common type of breast cancer with over half of diagnosis being ER+.  You may have heard of Tamoxifen a drug which many premenopausal women have to take for 5 years following a breast cancer diagnosis to help prevent the cancer from coming back.   Post menopausal women will get a drug such as letrozole however this works in the same way to help stop the cancer from coming back.

Progestogen is said to be PR positive or PR+ this is most common to be found in women with ER+ therefore the same medication works for this.

HER2 is said to be HER2 positive or HER2+ between 15-30% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are HER2 positive.  Researchers have found a drug called Herceptin which the women will get every 3 weeks via a drip for 12 months following her diagnosis as well as her Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy treatment.

A women can be positive to all these hormones and proteins therefore would be classified as being Triple Positive.  However less then 15% of the breast cancer diagnosis are Triple Negative which means the caner does not respond to any of these hormones.

That is good I hear you say, and yes initially I thought so, however what this actually means is that researchers have not discovered what these women’s cancer feed on therefore they have not been able to create a medication such as Herceptin or Tamoxifen to stop the cancer from coming back.

This type of caner is classified as being Triple Negative and for some reason is more aggressive that other types of breast cancer.  Therefore the only treatment for Triple Negative is Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy.

So on Wednesday the 1st September when I went to the hospital to get the results of the pathology following my lumpectomy I was told my cancer was triple negative and a grade 3 tumour therefore I would need to undergo chemotherapy treatment.

This was a massive blow to me as I had read the statistics about Triple Negative cancer being the most aggressive and the most likely to return within the first 5 years from primary diagnosis.  The reality also hit me that I had to have chemo and I would lose my hair.

In the midst of the shock I asked the consultant when I would be getting a follow up appointment, she said he would see me in a year.  Over the past few weeks the pain in my left breast had got worse I felt it hard and painful.  I said but the left breast is sore and hard.  I remember his words so clearly, he said you have had a mammogram so it is fine, I will see you in a year.  Oncology will be in touch with you within 3 weeks to start chemo.   I left the hospital that day crying having to come to terms with everything which had just been said to me.  The idea I had a month earlier were I would have the op, a blast of radio and be ready for the Christmas party was certainly blown out of the water.  All I could think of was the words aggressive, triple negative, chemo!!!





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