Every year, nearly 25,000 women in the Philippines are reported to be diagnosed with breast cancer, with over 8000 of these cases ending in death. Based on the GLOBOCAN 2018 report, cancer of the breast ranks as the third deadliest in the country.
But not all breast cancers are the same. Delving deeper into this deadly disease, one will find that there are certain types of breast cancer – a crucial bit of information possibly unknown to some patients, caregivers, and even to some people who might know a woman or two with breast cancer. According to Dr. Rubi Li, medical oncologist and member of the Philippine Society for Medical Oncologists (PSMO), “knowing the type of breast cancer, one can determine how aggressive it is, if there are certain targetable genes, and ultimately determine how best to treat a patient – one would have a better treatment plan to adhere to for the most optimal treatment.”
According to Dr. Rubi Li, with continuous innovation and with growing knowledge of how cancers such as that of the breast work, 3 basic molecular subtypes of breast cancer were determined:
- Patients with either hormone-sensitive (1) Luminal A and (2) Luminal B cancers – the most common types that account for about 78% of breast cancer cases – will have cancer tumors that typically tend to grow slowly.
- Patients diagnosed with what is called the Her2NEu or HER2-enriched cancers – which account for about 12% of breast cancer cases – may do well with certain treatment types over others.
- And triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), tends to be seen in the younger population, and may potentially be harder to treat than the other types, accounts for about 10% of breast cancer cases.
A closer look at triple-negative breast cancer
Dr. Li describes TNBC as a cancer with “no targets to hit”, where the other types of cancers have more obvious genes that can be targeted by common breast cancer treatment options. Triple-negative breast cancer tends to “affect younger women under the age of 50, can be characterized by larger tumors, and may involve lymph nodes,” she shares further.
Although Dr Li warns that TNBC symptoms tend to manifest in similar ways as other breast cancer types, a more accurate way of finding out whether one has this type or not is through a complete breast panel test. This test helps determine the presence of three genes that can be targeted and treated by most common breast cancer medications and can help create a treatment plan for breast cancer patients.
Should a patient’s tumor test negative on the entire test spectrum, it can be determined that she could have TNBC.
But as the ‘new normal’ adage for cancer goes, cancer is no longer a death sentence. This goes for breast cancer, even for its most aggressive subtype.
“Breast cancer is curable in its early stages, and even when the cancer has spread, it is still treatable,” reminds a hopeful Dr. Li.
“What is important here is the strong communication between the patient and their doctors. This dialogue will establish the best type of treatment suited for the patient.”
Treatments for triple-negative breast cancer, once considered an aggressive breast cancer subtype, have grown along with important knowledge about the disease, and medical experts are now able to determine and prescribe more options for treatment.
The best course of action for women to beat breast cancer? Ask your doctor about complete panel testing to help determine your best cancer subtype, and to help draft a comprehensive treatment plan best suited for your condition.
To help Filipina women learn more about this disease, Hope From Within by MSD in the Philippines is expanding its initiative’s reach to the country’s breast cancer patients with the #BCWeCan campaign: an information and awareness drive for breast cancer, particularly triple-negative breast cancer, that aims to empower cancer patients and caregivers to be more involved in their cancer patient journey with the help of a step-by-step guide.
The #BCWeCan campaign presents a comprehensive Breast Cancer Patient Journey map, which features 8 steps to help patients not only learn more about their disease and its subtypes, but learn the importance of complete panel testing, diagnosis, their many treatment options, and the importance of sharing the good word to more Filipinas for a hopeful and breast-cancer-free Philippines.
The campaign also emphasizes the importance or early diagnosis through proper and complete testing that can help not only TNBC patients, but also help improve the prognosis or the outcomes of other breast cancer types. Detecting one’s breast cancer condition in its early stages can help give patients a better chance at fighting off the disease.
Visit the Hope From Within Facebook page and follow the #BCWeCan hashtag for more updates on this campaign, and visit www.hopefromwithin.org to view and download the Breast Cancer Patient Journey map to share with your loved ones and friends.