CHICAGO (CBS 2) – If you’re in your 20’s or 30’s you’re more susceptible and if you’re a black woman, you face a higher risk. It’s a type of breast cancer researchers know little about. CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker met two women whose stories could help save your life.
It’s rare form of breast cancer that’s more likely to strike women when they’re young.
“I found out when I was 32 years old,” said senior accountant Kiran Bal.
“I was 43,” said Sharon Powell, a former retail worker.
It’s the number one cause of death for African American women with breast cancer. It’s called triple negative, one of the most aggressive tumors doctors have ever seen.
“Even a small lump can have already spread to another part of the body,” according to researcher Dr. Rita Nanda of the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Powell was diagnosed with triple negative two years ago. After months of treatment, the former retail worker thought she was on the road to recovery, but now she’s back in chemo.
“I had a tumor in my brain,” said Powell. “I never thought this would be something that I would be hearing. I took care of myself and you know I didn’t have a history or anything.”
Dr. Nanda said it’s not entirely understood why African American women are more susceptible to triple negative breast cancer. It could be genetic or environmental causes. The causes of the disease are just as mysterious for young women like Kiran Bal who just completed 10 months of chemotherapy and radiation.
“To me it was shocking to hear that there was a breast cancer that little was known about,” acknowledges Bal.
Kiran is committed to helping doctors discover better treatments for triple negative breast cancer. Both she and Sharon participate in clinical trials. Sharon’s testing a PARP inhibitor, which is believed to make chemotherapy more effective. So far results are promising. The five year survival rates have jumped from a low of 14% to as high as 86% among women who’ve used the drug.
Kiran is hoping to meet and exceed the five year mark. She changed her lifestyle to include more exercise, a better diet and less stress.
“I made a decision early on that I was going to live every single day to the fullest because from that point on every single day was a gift,” said Bal.
It’s a gift that Sharon also treasures as she tackles this latest setback, “My goal is to continue to fight to be here for my family.”
Both women found their tumors during a self exam and both encourage all women to make the exams a priority.