Breast cancer is one of the most common malignancies in women. Approximately 15% of cases belong to the triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) group, in which no estrogen/progesterone receptors, or HER2 expression is detected. The unfavorable prognosis of this group of patients, as well as the lack of effective targeted therapy makes TNBC the subject of intensive research. In the present study, we searched PubMed for publications from January 2007 to June 2009 with the following key-words in addition to "breast cancer" and "triple negative": "epidemiology" or "gene-profile" or "predictive" or "prognostic" or "therapy" or "review". A total of 513 publications were identified. Relevant references were also reviewed. Beyond the well-known facts that TNBC affects younger patients, and is more common among Afro- or Hispano-Americans with lower socioeconomic status, hormonal environment and obesity emerged as potential etiologic factors. TNBC is not a homogenous disease. It can be further sub-classified based on histomorphologic features and immunohistochemistry. Hereditary BRCA1 mutations as well as acquired BRCA1 disfunction are described to be common in TNBC. Previously, many investigators considered TNBC to be identical to a subgroup called basal-like breast cancer defined by gene expression micro-array technology, but in the light of more recent findings, this view is no longer accepted by most investigators. Several large studies provide evidence that triple negativity, per se, is an independent adverse prognostic factor, in spite of the fact that approximately 10% of TNBC patients have a good prognosis. The therapy of choice for TNBC is systemic chemotherapy. Promising novel targeted chemotherapeutic agents include PARP1 inhibitors, a new group of compounds exploiting the defective DNA repair machinery.
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