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Buddy Check 6: Breast cancer survival rates not improving for some

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- More women are beating breast cancer, but unfortunately survival rates have not improved for everyone, especially minority women.

That’s because they’re more likely to be diagnosed with a rare, aggressive type of breast cancer called Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

Dorothy Hamlin is fighting the disease for a third time, but she has one less thing to worry about as she goes through treatment.

She knows her daughter Sonja is very informed about her own risk and why Dorothy’s disease is unlike any other form of breast cancer.

“It’s a different type of breast cancer and it can be serious,” Dorothy said.

It is serious because Dorothy’s sub-type is rare, aggressive, hard to treat and has a high rate of recurrence.

It’s called Triple Negative Breast Cancer because it lacks the three hormone receptors known to fuel most cancer tumors: estrogen, progesterone and her2.

This means it does not respond to hormone therapy – only chemotherapy. And it has a high rate of recurrence.

The alarming fact is a majority of patients are young Hispanic and African-American women like Sonja.

Only 10 to 20 percent of breast cancers are triple negative, but black women are twice as likely as white women to develop it. And women under 40 are twice as likely to get this type sub-type.

“She knows it’s a family trait,so she has to be careful also,” Dorothy said.

Sonja started her annual mammograms early, when she turned 30 years old  -- and she performs her monthly self breast exam.

Dr. William Irvin with Bon Secours Cancer Institute said Dorothy’s daughter is on the right track.

“They need to know their bodies and be aware of changes. ” says Dr. Irvin.

But he said many young, black women have no information about this disease or their risk. He said that can have devastating consequences because early detection improves your chances of surviving.

Doctors are researching new treatments for TNBC, but right now chemotherapy is the only effective approach.

“In the next three or four years we’re going to have specific targeted agents and things will get better for the patients, “Irvin said.

Until then, Dr. Irvin and Dorothy urge women to learn all they can about triple negative breast cancer just like her daughter has and pass that information on to others. [BONUS: Click here for more about Triple Negative Breast Cancer] 

“Knowledge is power when you use that knowledge. Knowledge is not power if you don’t use it,” Dorothy said.

Dr. Irvin said at this point they don’t know why TNBC affects younger minority women.
He said knowing your family history is also important because this type of breast cancer is hereditary up to 20-percent of the time.

Watch Stephanie Rochon's Buddy Check 6 reports on the sixth of the month on CBS 6 News. 

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