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.

1 Comment

  1. Rebecca Lopez

    October 30, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    During her interview on GMA when she revealed her diagnosis, Joan Lunden pointed out that she had a large support system at home that was helping her deal with her illness. It is easy for many of us to take a support system like this one for granted, since many of us expect to receive support from our loved ones without having to ask for it. However, what about patients who don’t have a support system at home because they don’t have loved ones, or because their families aren’t providing them with the support they are seeking? These patients, as well those who do have a support system at home, can find support systems online. Support systems online and at home each offer different things to patients. A support system at home can offer a patient sympathy, love, personal attention, and care. An online support system cannot offer these things, but it can provide a patient with things that a support system at home oftentimes cannot offer, such as medical advice, treatment recommendations, and tips for dealing with specific conditions.
    An easy to access website that has attracted a lot of attention in recent years is PatientsLikeMe, which is a patient online community that hosts patients with any chronic condition. This site allows people to see how many patients are taking a particular drug and the list of indications, side effects, dosages, and individual tips from the large community. It was co-founded by Jamie and Ben Heywood, who created this health social networking in an effort to improve their sick brother’s chances of surviving ALS and the outlook for other patients with ALS. Another website is CureTogether, which targets more than five hundred different conditions and has initiated interesting clinical research. It was launched in 2008 to help people anonymously keep track of and compare health data, to better understand their bodies, make more informed treatment decisions, and contribute data to research.
    The rapid and large success of online support systems such as these is playing a huge role in the creation of more collaborative, interactive, virtual communities with content generated by our peers. While this has had a huge impact on patients, the power of social networking is also impacting the life science industry. Whereas before companies relied heavily on key opinion leaders and even celebrities to engage the public, there is a growing awareness of the intersection between social networking and the life science industry. For example, recent studies have indicated that social networking has contributed to the decline in the prescription of certain medicines. It won’t be long before companies assemble teams of individuals who specialize in social media networking in order to efficiently get the word out. Perhaps this shifting of priority from reaching doctors to targeting patients will encourage the life science industry to produce better and more efficient drugs for patients by studying how clinicians are adopting a drug and how the drug is really working among its consumers.

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