AUSTIN -- Doctors want all women to be aware of a particularly invasive and aggressive form of cancer called triple negative breast cancer. Doctors say about 15 to 20 percent of all breast cancers in the United States are triple negative cancer. It occurs most often in younger women -- women in their 30s and 40s, as well as African-American and Hispanic women. However physicians stress women of any age or ethnicity can get triple negative breast cancer.
Iris Sims, 65, is extremely comfortable letting everyone know she's been waging a personal war with breast cancer.
"I am a on-the-go, a very active type of person," said Sims. "I am like, well it can't be all this bad."
It didn't take long for Sims to learn it can be that bad. In August she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.
"Not knowing what to expect emotion wise, I just did a lot of thinking about the (upcoming) process," said Sims. "I've heard of chemo, radiations. What will it be for me? Because everyone's cancer is different -- especially breast cancer."
Doctors say about 85 percent of invasive ductal breast cancers are slow growing and have cells that are more like normal breast tissue. Also, that breast tissue tends to respond to the hormones the body produces. That's not the case with triple breast cancer.
"We know it is more aggressive and more likely to recur in the future than with normal, invasive ductal cancer," said Jane Nelson, M.D., breast surgeon at The Breast Center at St. David's Medical Center. "These patients tend to have a recurrence within the first three to five years, and that recurrence can be and usually is in another part of the body where it then becomes Stage 4 and not treatable for cure at that point."
Nelson performed Sims' lumpectomy. Nelson is optimistic about her recovery because Sims found the cancer early by doing a self exam.
"She was able to find this by exam before it became Stage 2, and that's critical," said Nelson. "If you can find it sooner and treat it before it has metastasized to lymph nodes under the arm, then she has a better chance of being cured of this cancer with surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy."
Sims is confident she's already beaten the disease and the months of chemotherapy and radiation are just other steps in that process.
"Being myself it is like, 'Well here's another challenge for you, Iris. Go for it,'" said Sims.
Dr. Nelson says if triple negative breast cancer patients have the cancer recur in other parts of their body, at that point there are not many treatment options available, that's why she and Sims stress frequent self exams to catch the disease in its early stages.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Click here for more information.