What is a triple-negative strain of breast cancer?
Triple-negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that uses glucose for fuel. Typically, the consumption of glucose doesn’t occur until the latter stages of breast cancer. It’s called the Warburg effect. However, in young African-American women, it appears the Warburg effect starts earlier and may begin in the first stages of cancer. If this is the case, testing for the Warburg effect could reveal breast cancer earlier in high-risk, young, African-American women. Young African-American women are more likely to develop triple-negative strains of breast cancer. These strains have a high mortality rate with most patients living less than five years.
What has research shown us?
About 80 African-American women participated in a study. These women were placed in two groups, both having a family history of aggressive breast cancer. When researchers tested for the Warburg effect, they found precancerous cells actively utilizing glucose for fuel. Not only is this a sign of potential breast cancer, but it is also a warning signal for lifestyle changes.
If the women in this study and others like them were to develop gestational diabetes, precancerous cells would have access to more glucose and could grow even faster. Women in the high-risk category should exercise, eat right and have blood glucose levels checked regularly, but it is also important for all women to follow the exercise and healthy eating rule to reduce the risk of certain forms of breast cancer.
In some cases, high-risk women with gestational diabetes can be treated with metformin, a diabetes drug, to reduce blood glucose levels. Few women understand the risks of triple-negative breast cancer and glucose levels, so community education is extremely important.
Source: American Association for Cancer Research. 20 September 2011.