Aggressive breast cancer targets minorities

LOS ANGELES Besides stage and location of the disease, patients should also know their sub-types, such as hormone-positive or HER2-negative.

One local woman says the more you know, the more you'll be able to help yourself save your life.

As far as 43-year-old Deanna Rice is concerned, you can never be too careful.

She underwent a double mastectomy. Breast cancer threatened her life at age 29 and again at 36.

"I knew then that my receptors were negative," said Rice.

"Triple-negative" is what doctors call Deanna's type of breast cancer. This means it's not driven by estrogen, progesterone or HER2 proteins, and it can't be treated with latest targeted therapies. Triple-negative tumors are usually more aggressive. Fifteen percent of breast cancer cases fall under this subtype.

"The average age of someone getting an er-negative tumor or triple negative tumor is in the lower 50's" said Dr. Alice Chung of the John Wayne Cancer Institute's Breast Center. "In addition African-American and Hispanic women tend to get triple negative tumors more often."

Hormone therapies such as Tamoxifen won't work and neither will other breakthrough drugs such as Herceptin.

For now, the only way to treat triple-negative is with the standards: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

"I feel that one message for these patients, until we get better therapy, should be if they do respond to Chemotherapy they shouldn't feel hopeless," said Dr. Linnea Chap.

Dr. Chap says women who have inherited the breast cancer gene BRACA 1 are more likely to get triple-negative breast cancer. Deanna tested positive for BRACA 1.

Besides a double mastectomy, she also underwent a hysterectomy. She says being proactive and positive are the only ways to win the battle against such a deadly adversary.

"Don't be afraid of having knowledge," said Rice. "The more knowledge you have, the more powerful you are and the more you can advocate for yourself as a patient.

John Wayne Cancer Institute researchers are working on identifying the bio-markers that lead to triple negative cancer. Unlocking this first step will hopefully lead to a new targeted therapy.

After her ordeal with breast cancer, Deanna was also diagnosed with fallopian-tube cancer. She underwent more chemotherapy and is doing well.

When she's not tending to her four kids, she advocates for other breast cancer patients.

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