Coping With Triple Negative Breast Cancer? 3 Areas Where You May Need Extra Support

December 13, 2022
A woman's hands comfortingly hold the hands of a friend

If you’re facing a triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) diagnosis, chances are you have already talked with your healthcare team about its unique challenges. Of the 3 breast cancer subtypes, fewer treatments work against TNBC. It can also spread quickly, and it has a higher rate of recurrence than other breast cancers. For patients, its aggressive nature and treatment can cause significant distress. This distress, in turn, can negatively impact quality of life. 

The good news is that there is support available. Seeking help, staying informed, and keeping in tune with your own experiences and feelings can help you regain control of your journey.

TNBC accounts for about 10% to 15% of all breast cancers. 

Our Research and Training Institute recently looked at data from TNBC patients and survivors, who shared their experiences in our Cancer Experience Registry survey. We brought our findings to the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium — the largest and most prestigious scientific gathering on breast cancer research in the world — and we want you to know about the most important takeaways. 

Here are 3 areas to keep an eye on, and resources that can help: 

1. Cancer-related Concerns & Distress

In our survey, TNBC patients and survivors shared their experience with cancer-related distress. They rated their concerns across 5 areas: emotional well-being, symptom burden and impact, body image and healthy lifestyle, healthcare team communication, and relationships and intimacy. In our findings, over half of the participants shared that they were moderately to very seriously concerned about 3 things:

  • the cancer recurring
  • issues related to body image and healthy lifestyle such as eating, nutrition, and exercise
  • symptoms and side effects such as “brain fog” or being able to think clearly

It is normal to experience many emotions, life changes, and physical concerns after a cancer diagnosis. Learning and adopting coping strategies can be helpful as you manage the challenges of your cancer experience.

Discover Healthy Coping Tips & Resources 

2. Financial Toxicity

Our findings uncovered another key area of concern for TNBC patients and survivors: financial toxicity. Financial toxicity refers to the financial burden and cost-related psychological distress that cancer patients face because of their care. In our survey, 1 out of every 4 TNBC patients and survivors reported experiencing moderate to severe levels of financial toxicity because of their cancer treatment. 

Not surprisingly, this toxicity was related to increased symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance. Up-front discussions about the cost of healthcare may help patients better prepare for the financial impact of treatment. Yet, 70% of participants in our survey reported that their healthcare team never discussed the costs of treatment with them ahead of time.

Knowing the potential costs of your cancer treatment and other cancer care can help you plan and identify where you might need help. It may also be helpful to work with a financial navigator or counselor.

Get Tips on Talking About Cancer Costs & Finding Help

Watch this short video about financial toxicity and where you can turn for help.

3. Symptoms, Side Effects, and Palliative Care

In our survey, TNBC patients and survivors also shared their experiences with symptoms and side effects of treatment. Our findings revealed that TNBC patients had worse physical and emotional symptoms and lower physical functioning than the general U.S. population. They also had worse physical and emotional symptoms and lower physical functioning than other people living with any type of breast cancer in the United States. 

One way TNBC patients and survivors can potentially get help managing symptoms and side effects is through palliative care. This form of care can improve health-related quality of life for patients with serious disease at any stage of their illness. However, data from our survey showed that very few TNBC patients saw palliative care specialists to help manage their symptoms and side effects. 

Learn How Palliative Care Can Help You Manage Symptoms & Side Effects

Support Is Available

People who have been diagnosed with TNBC are impacted by more than the disease itself, as our findings show. Cancer-related distress, financial toxicity, and challenging symptoms and side effects can all negatively affect patients’ quality of life. Survivors, too, can face distress after treatment ends. These needs can and should be addressed through whole-person care.

If you are living with TNBC or are caring for a loved one with TNBC, we offer a variety of free resources and services to help ease the burden of your journey:

Did You Know?

Breast cancer can run in Black and African American families through the BRCA gene or Lynch Syndrome. Learn about triple negative breast cancer in Black and African American communities.