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Basal-Like Breast Cancer

Basal-like breast cancer (BLBC) is an aggressive molecular subtype of breast cancer. Basal-like tumors have cells that look similar to the epithelial cells of the outermost, basal layer of the breast’s milk ducts.

Basal-like breast cancer is a term often used interchangeably with triple negative breast cancer. While the two types are similar, they are not always biologically the same. Most but not all of basal-like breast cancers are triple-negative breast cancers and vice versa.

Causes of Basal-Like Breast Cancer

As with all types of breast cancer, what exactly causes basal-like breast cancer is unknown. However, there are a number of factors that can increase the risk for the condition.

These risk factors include:

  • Being a younger, premenopausal woman
  • Being a Black woman
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having the BRCA1 inherited gene mutation

While bearing children at a late age and never being pregnant or giving birth to a child are often risk factors for some types of cancer, these may be protective factors against basal-like breast cancer.

Symptoms of Basal-Like Breast Cancer

The main symptom of most breast cancers, including basal-like breast cancer, is a hard or rubbery lump in the breast that feels immovable.

Other basal-like breast cancer symptoms include:

  • Reddening, dimpling, swelling or thickening of breast skin
  • Changes in the appearance and shape of the breast or nipples
  • Abnormal pain in breast or nipple
  • Discharge from the nipple that is not breastmilk

Diagnosis of Basal-Like Breast Cancer

Diagnosing any type of breast cancer begins with determining the genetic makeup of the breast cancer cells. The first step in diagnosing basal-like breast cancer is to obtain a biopsy.

Using a biopsied sample, the type of hormone and protein receptors the breast cancer cells have is determined. Pathologists look for estrogen or progesterone receptors (ER or PR), which can be grouped under hormone receptor (HR) negative and positive designations. The presence of HER2 receptors are also identified.

Basal-like malignancies have cells that:

  • Lack ER, PR and HER2 protein expression
  • Strongly express basal epithelial markers such as keratin 5 and 17
  • Feature laminin and fatty acid binding protein 7
  • Have low expression of luminal genes

Treatments for Basal-Like Breast Cancer

Basal-like breast cancer is an aggressive form of cancer and often has poor clinical outcomes. But the breast cancer experts at Tampa General Hospital’s Cancer Institute care for and treat even the most complex breast cancer cases, including patients with BLBC.

Treatments for basal-like breast cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, neoadjuvant (before surgery) chemotherapy and adjuvant (after surgery) chemotherapy and immunotherapy.