Joan Lunden Undergoing Treatment for “Triple Negative” Breast Cancer

Less than two weeks ago, we reported that former Good Morning America host Joan Lunden had been diagnosed with breast cancer. We can now tell you that Lunden has “triple negative breast cancer” or TNBC, a more aggressive form of breast cancer.

Lunden has now completed her second course of chemotherapy, and as she was starting to lose her hair, decided she would do it on her own terms, and shave her head.

During the interview on GMA with Robin Roberts, when she revealed her diagnosis, she told Roberts:

“When something like this happens, you learn just how important it is to have a support system.”

Lunden has quite a large support system at home, including husband Jeff Konigsberg, and seven children-two sets of twins, 9 and 11 years old, with Konigsberg, plus three older daughters from a previous marriage, to Michael Krauss. Her family has also become a primary focus of motivation to help her through her cancer treatment.

Joan also plans to continue her work as a health and fitness advocate, hoping that she can use the current illness as ” an opportunity to try and inspire others to protect their health.”

What is Triple Negative Breast Cancer?

There are 3 major types of breast cancer that differ in the way they are treated, so it’s important for doctors to diagnose exactly what type a patient has.  The three major types of breast cancer and their treatments are:

  1. ER/PR-positive (or ER/PR+).  About 65% of breast cancers are in this category.  ER stands for “estrogen receptor,” PR stands for “progesterone receptor” and these tumors are treated with drugs such as as tamoxifen that block these hormones that act like fertilizers for the cancer cells.
  2. HER2-positive (or HER2+).  About 20% of breast cancers are in this category.  HER2 stands for “human epidermal growth factor receptor number 2.”  The HER2 gene is amplified in this form of breast cancer and acts like an accelerator for cancer cells.  These gene is blocked by a drug called traztusumab or HERCEPTIN.
  3. Triple-negative (TNBC) simply means that this type of cancer lacks the 3 “biomarkers” (ER, PR and HER2) that define the other two types. About 15% of breast cancers are in this category.  Triple-negative cancers are treated with harsher chemotherapies because of a lack of “targets” for more modern drugs.


Breast cancer pie chart










Interestingly, most BRCA1 (hereditary) breast cancers are in the TNBC category but not all TNBCs have the BRCA1 mutations.  For more about hereditary breast and ovarian cancers, see our earlier stories on Angelina Jolie and Pierce Brosnan’s adopted daughter.

New, more effective and less toxic drugs are on the horizon to treat patients with triple-negative breast cancers as well as those caused by BRCA1 mutations.  One such drug currently being evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is olaparib or Lynparza from the drug company AstraZeneca.  Patients who have been diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer may be eligible to receive this drug through a clinical research trial.



Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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