One reason for the disproportionately higher death rate from breast cancer among Black women is the occurrence of two aggressive breast cancers in African American women under age 40

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for about 10% to 15% of all breast cancers. The term triple-negative breast cancer refers to the fact that the cancer cells don’t have estrogen or progesterone receptors (ER or PR) and also don’t make any or too much of the protein called HER2. (The cells test “negative” on all 3 tests.) These cancers tend to be more common in women younger than age 40, who are Black, or who have a BRCA1 mutation.

TNBC differs from other types of invasive breast cancer in that it tends to grow and spread faster, has fewer treatment options, is more likely to have spread at the time it’s found, and is more likely to come back after treatment than other types of breast cancer. The outlook is generally not as good as it is for other types of breast cancer.

Treating Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Popular hormone therapy or targeted HER2 drugs don’t work on this type of cancer. These treatments work well on cancer cells that have estrogen or progesterone receptors or enough of the HER2 protein, all of which triple-negative breast cancer doesn’t present with.  Because these therapies don’t work, chemotherapy is often used for women with triple-negative breast cancer.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is rare and accounts for only 1% to 5% of all breast cancers. Although it is a type of invasive ductal carcinoma, its symptoms, outlook and treatment are different. IBC causes symptoms of breast inflammation like swelling and redness, which is caused by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin causing the breast to look “inflamed.”

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) differs from other types of breast cancer in many ways:

IBC doesn’t look like typical breast cancer. It often does not cause a breast lump, and it might not show up on a mammogram. This makes it harder to diagnose.

IBC tends to occur in younger women (younger than age 40).

Black women appear to develop IBC more often than White women.

IBC is more common among women who are overweight or obese.

IBC tends to be more aggressive — it grows and spreads much more quickly — than more common types of breast cancer.

IBC is always at a locally advanced stage when it’s first diagnosed because the breast cancer cells have grown into the skin. (This means it is at least stage III.)

In about 1 of every 3 cases, IBC has already spread (metastasized) to distant parts of the body when it is diagnosed. This makes it harder to treat successfully.

Signs & Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer causes a number of signs and symptoms, most of which develop quickly (within three to six months), including:

Swelling of the skin of the breast

Redness involving more than one-third of the breast

Pitting or thickening of the skin of the breast so that it may look and feel like an orange peel

A retracted or inverted nipple

One breast looking larger than the other because of swelling

One breast feeling warmer and heavier than the other

A breast that may be tender, painful or itchy

Swelling of the lymph nodes under the arms or near the collarbone

If you have any of these symptoms, it does not mean that you have IBC, but you should see a doctor right away. Tenderness, redness, warmth, and itching are also common symptoms of a breast infection or inflammation, such as mastitis if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Because these problems are much more common than IBC, your doctor might suspect infection at first as a cause and treat you with antibiotics.

If the antibiotics don’t work in 7 to 10 days, make sure to get back with your doctor quickly.  

Source: American Cancer Society