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Cancer that targets young African women

By Nancy Nzalambi - Jul 24th 2021
It is a harder-to-treat type of breast cancer common among young African women, African American women and Latinos (Photo: Courtesy)

Breast cancer remains the world’s commonest cancer but there is a type of the cancer that presents in a more than typical aggressive form.

It is called the triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). It is a harder-to-treat type of breast cancer common among young African women, African American women and Latinos.

It is rarer among women of European descent. The triple negative breast cancer lacks any of the three common receptors found in breast cancer cells and this is what makes it harder to treat.

When a patient presents breast cancer with any of these receptors, specific treatment options for the receptor(s) are used to possibly destroy the cancer cells.

However, when the cancer lacks any of the three receptors, it limits the treatment options to cure the cancer.

According to Pathologists Lancet Kenya, TNBC has a higher chance of metastasis and reoccurrence within the first three years after treatment. It is also likely to be fatal in the first five years.

Recent data from 10 provincial health facilities across the country shows that TNBC constitutes approximately 20.2 per cent of all breast cancer cases.

Diagnosis and treatment

TNBC is diagnosed using imaging tests and biopsy. It does not respond to targeted therapies that are effective with the other types of breast cancer.

Fortunately, there are chemotherapy options that can be effective in treating TNBC. TNBC is treated by having the lump (lumpectomy) or the entire breast removed (mastectomy).

Some patients choose to have breast reconstruction done. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are also employed to kill any remaining cancer cells and limit regrowth of the same.

It important to note that treatment’s success or failure depends on how big the tumour is, its growth rate and whether it has spread to other body parts and lymph nodes.

Data from the American Cancer Institute shows that five-year survival rates are at 91 per cent for localised breast cancer and 11 per cent for cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body.

Besides race, other risk factors include:

  • Having a BRCA gene mutation. BRCA genes ensure stability of DNA in the cells. A mutation in these genes mean that damaged DNA may cause genetic alterations that result in cancer.
  • Being under the age of 40.
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