How many diseases is triple negative breast cancer; the protagonism of the immune microenvironment

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Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a type of breast cancer (BC) that does not express the oestrogen and the progesterone receptors and the human epidermal growth factor receptor type 2 (HER2). Since there are no positive markers to reliably classify TNBC, these tumours are not yet treated with targeted therapies. Perhaps for this reason they are the most aggressive form of breast carcinomas. However, the clinical observation that these patients do not carry a uniformly dismal prognosis, coupled with data coming from pathology and epidemiology, suggests that this negative definition is not capturing a single clinical entity, but several. We critically evaluate this evidence in this paper, reviewing clinical and epidemiological data and new studies that aim to subclassify TNBC. Moreover, evidence on the role of tumour infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) on TNBC progression, response to chemotherapy and patient outcome have been published. The heterogeneity, observed even at TILs level, highlights the idea that TNBC is much more than a single disease with a unique treatment. The exploration of the immune environment present at the tumour site could indeed help in answering the question 'How many diseases is TNBC' and will help to define prognosis and eventually develop new therapies, by stimulating the immune effector cells or by inhibiting immunological repressor molecules. In this review, we focus on the prospect of the patient's diverse immune signatures within the tumour as potential biomarkers and how they could be modulated to fight the disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e000208
JournalESMO Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sep 2017


  • tumour infiltrating lymphocytes
  • gene expression profile
  • heterogeneity
  • Triple negative breast cancer


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