A subtype of breast cancer that's more aggressive and has a worse prognosis than other types, and is a threat to women both old and young, is not getting enough attention in the Garden State, according to legislators.

There's a push to designate every March in New Jersey as Triple Negative Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The full Senate unanimously approved the measure on Feb. 14.

"It's a very difficult disease to treat," said Dr. Deborah Toppmeyer, chief medical officer at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. "There is a lot of ongoing research in this subtype of breast cancer, trying to find weapons that can be effective."

According to American Cancer Society, about 10 to 15% of all breast cancers in the U.S. are triple-negative breast cancer, which gets its name from the fact that it lacks three key receptors that are commonly found in breast cancer and make more treatment options available. Triple-negative tends to be more common in women younger than 40, those who are Black, or those with certain gene mutations, according to ACS.

Chemotherapy is often the course of action, because hormone therapy is not an option. Surgery could be available to the patient, if the cancer hasn't spread too far. Triple-negative has a worse prognosis than other invasive breast cancers, and can grow and spread faster. It's also known to be more likely to come back after treatment.

"We need more weapons, and we only accomplish that through the design and conduct of clinical trials," Toppmeyer said.

There have developments over the years — the use of immunotherapy for certain patients, as well as novel agents approved by the FDA — but more needs to be done to make an impact on the "early breast cancer setting," so women don't ever have to reach stage 4 disease, Toppmeyer said.

Awareness is also key to the fight against triple-negative breast cancer, Toppmeyer noted. Earlier detection and treatment save lives, she said.

"To dedicate a month to this particular subtype of breast cancer, I'm all in," she said.

The proposed law notes that 8,330 women in New Jersey were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, and sites the disproportionate impact of triple-negative breast cancer  on women of color and those of a lower socioeconomic status.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is by far the most diagnosed cancer among women in New Jersey.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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