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. 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.”
There are currently 3 basic molecular subtypes of breast cancer. The most common types of breast cancer cases are patients with either hormone-sensitive (1) Luminal A and (2) Luminal B cancers. Second are patients diagnosed with what is called the Her2NEu or HER2-enriched cancers may do well with certain treatment types over others.
The most aggressive type is triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), which tends to be seen in the younger population, and may potentially be harder to treat than the other types. 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.
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.
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.
Treatments for triple negative breast cancer have grown along with important knowledge about the disease, and medical experts are now able to determine and prescribe more options for treatment.
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.