At most points in the treatment process, you can talk to your doctor about participating in a clinical trial. Some treatments will make you ineligible for some clinical trials later on, so it's a good idea to find out your clinical trial options early in your treatment process.
Triple negative breast cancer is hormone receptor negative (ER- and PR-) and HER2 negative, which disqualifies it from being treated with most targeted therapies and hormone therapies. This kind of cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy, sometimes in the neoadjuvant (pre-surgery) setting, although more research is needed to determine if neoadjuvant chemo actually improves response.
Targeted cancer therapies are drugs or other substances that block the growth and spread of cancer. Targeted therapies select specific cells to attack, leaving healthy cells alone. They are often used with other types of therapy suited to specific types of breast cancer.
Hormone (endocrine) therapy is a systemic, targeted treatment available for certain women who have estrogen positive (ER+ (ER positive, estrogen receptor positive) or PR+ (PR positive, progesterone receptor positive)) tumors. It can be given along with chemotherapy, or in place of it.
Chemotherapy involves drugs used to kill cancer cells. Today it is given with anti-nausea medication to reduce this debilitating side effect. Specific kinds of chemotherapy are:
Anthracyclines, such as doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and epirubicin (Ellence)
Taxanes, such as paclitaxel (Taxol) and docetaxel (Taxotere)
Not all women with breast cancer will receive chemotherapy.
After surgery and/or reconstruction, some women go straight to chemotherapy; they will sometimes have breast radiation therapy after their chemo. Others will have radiation after surgery. Women can also choose to participate in an adjuvant (post-surgery) clinical trial before radiation therapy.
Surgery options include breast conserving surgery (called BCS or lumpectomy) or removal of the breast (mastectomy). In addition, lymph nodes may be removed from under the arm to check for the presence of cancer cells. Currently, a sentinel node biopsy can identify lymph node involvement with much less of a chance of the debilitating effect of arm swelling or lymphedema which may result after having lymph nodes removed.