May 2009 - Triple Threat for Black Women

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Black women have endured countless trials and tribulations throughout history – so many in fact, that it often seems the weight of the world rests on our shoulders. Now, with the advent of a fairly recently discovered triple threat to our health, it seems that we also carry a most serious form of breast cancer.

Triple Negative Breast Cancer strikes more young-to-early-middle-age women of African descent than any other racial group. In fact, a 2006 research study conducted by Emory University in Atlanta revealed that 47% of breast tumors found in Black women were of the triple negative variety compared to 22% in White women. Black women in the study were three times more likely to have these particular types of tumors.

Triple negative breast tumors are so named because they mark the presence of estrogen receptor, human epidermal growth fact receptor 2 and progesterone receptor – three biological elements present in breast tumor tissues. Together, they are particularly pernicious and require special forms of chemotherapy and / or radiation to treat. In the study, even with appropriate treatment, this highly aggressive triple threat most often resulted in poor recovery rates – only 14% of African American women survived five years after diagnosis.

Triple Negative Breast Cancer is aggressive and of unknown origins, but early detection and treatment remain the most effective tools against this and all forms of cancer. Screening guidelines ask adult women to start annual mammograms at age 40 unless a family history mandates earlier testing. But Triple Negative Breast Cancer typically strikes women under 40 – well before the recommended age for screening. This means that Black women need to be extra vigilant about conducting breast self exams. Any inkling of a breast mass or other irregularity should trigger an immediate trip to the doctor. It’s not known if Triple Negative Breast Cancer has a hereditary link, so all young women should be aware of this potential threat.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s important to ask, “What type of breast cancer do I have?” The answer to this question will determine what type of chemotherapy will be most effective in your treatment.Women with a diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer should consider participating in clinical trials to receive free, state-of-the-art therapies that may prove highly effective. While the overall prognosis for this disease is not good, there are long term survivors. Self-education and early detection are the best defense against this aggressive killer of African-American women.

With you on your Journey to Wellness,
Dr. Mary S. Harris

This article first appeared on


0 catherine Hayos 2009-08-12 07:41
What are the statistical chances of reoccurrence and survival if you have been found to have this type of cancer but are cancer fee at this point due to radical breast surgery. BRCA2 gene
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0 Elease 2008-11-13 14:34
What are the treatments if one is diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer? What questions should be asked? The first I heard of this was at a health disparities conference. The surgeon who was going to peform my lumpectomy never mentioned it. I postponed the surgery and am preparing to see a different surgical oncologist next week and I want to be armed with good questions. Thank you.
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0 Dr. Mary Harris 2008-10-22 12:59
To the Harrington Family: I am so sorry for your loss. You can find additional information about cancer at OR you can go to To speak with someone about cancer, dial 1-800-4-CANCER OR call1–800–ACS–2 345--a wonderful resource available 24 hours a day. You may also wish to read our article at this site "When You Need to Talk With Someone about Cancer.I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.
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0 Sheila Banks 2008-10-22 11:30
Im from a family of 14(siblings) On April 26, 2006 we loss our dear sister "Anita(47yrs)" to breast cancer(she has been the 4th niece on my maternal side to die of breast cancer)...Oct 2006 my beloved brother "Andre"(44yrs)w as diagnosed with colon cancer...(he was in stage 4) one year and 6months of radiation and chemo.Throughou t his treatment the doctor lead us to believe he was getting better, "I knew he wasn't" he died June 9,2008... my family is numb...We still can't believe they are gone!!!!
Both siblings had regular check-ups and were in stage four by the time they were properly diagnosed... Seeking additional info!!!!!+
- ps...My condolences to the Harrington family(9/29/08) . Their story inspired me to reach out to you!
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0 charmaine mccowan 2008-10-08 18:12
thank you for the information
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0 William A Harrington 2008-09-29 12:57
Dr. Harris,
My wife was diagnoised with neg. receptacle breast cancer August 6 2004, entered treatments, completed chemo and radiation May 13 2005, rediagnoised May 10 2006 and died June 10 2006, what can we do to educate ourselves more about this cancer.
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