Digging Deeper: What is Cancer With Dr. Lisa Newman

Cancer in any part of the body means that there are cells that are growing out of the body’s normal control system. And when these cancers grow uncontrollably, they can spread to other organs of the body and damage to those other organs.

Breast cancers are malignant growths of cells that start out in the breast, but that are then capable of spreading or metastasize into other organs such as the liver, lungs, bones. And when breast cancer metastasized to those other organs, they can lead to breast cancer related deaths.

We are actually just starting to understand some of the risk factors that distinguish triple negative breast cancers from non-triple negative breast cancers. And what we have come to appreciate is that most of the risk factors that we had historically identified, as showing us women who are more likely to get breast cancer, mostly identify women who are likely to get the non-triple negative breast cancers.

Those risk factors being women who start having their periods at young ages, women who continue having periods until a relatively older age or women who have a delayed menopause and women who have few interruptions of their menstrual cycle over their lifetime in the course of multiple pregnancies.

Most of these risk factors identify women at higher risk for non-triple negative breast cancers. We are just now starting to try to identify risk factors for triple negative breast cancers, but that work is in its infancy. We do however understand that African-American women are at higher risk for developing triple negative breast cancers and we are trying to figure out why that is the case.

My own research is looking at whether or not there are some genetic or hereditary features associated with African ancestry which predisposes us to triple negative breast cancer.