Angelina Jolie's Surgeon Explains New Trial to Detect Triple Negative Breast Cancer Earlier

Dr. Kristi Funk shares details on "GMA" about new breast cancer trial.

Many people have never heard of Triple Negative Breast Cancer, but it’s a type of breast cancer that does not have any of the three most common types of receptors known to fuel most breast cancer growth.

About 10 to 20 percent of breast cancers are triple negative.

“There are three receptors, like little antennas we look for on breast cancer cells,” Funk explained on “GMA” today. “About 75 percent of breast cancers have estrogen and progesterone receptors, meaning these hormones tell the cancer cells to grow. The third receptor, HER2, is a growth factor. But when all three of these receptors are absent we call that ‘triple negative’ breast cancer.”

Funk said this type of cancer is most prevalent in people with a BRCA1 mutation, African Americans, Latinas and women under the age of 40.

It’s important to raise awareness about this particular type of breast cancer because “compared to other cancer types, triple negatives are aggressive,” Funk said. “As a group, triple negatives cause the highest recurrence rates and lowest survival rates of all the breast cancer subtypes.”

“Since there is no pill to take,” Funk explained, “we just kind of sit back and hope and wait” that there will not be a recurrence. If there is a recurrence, however, it’s most likely within the first five years, she said.

However, there may be great news on the horizon. Funk is involved in new research that she says will hopefully make detecting recurrences faster and easier. The clinical trial starts today.

“This is a simple blood test aiming to detect recurrence easily and early at a point where we can intervene and still cure you,” she said.

“The blood test is one of two things. We look at NK Vue, which is natural killer cells. They’re a sign of immune function. The other is Clear ID. It looks at tumor cells," Funk said. "An early trial in London with just 55 patients recently showed that when your natural killer cells drop and your tumor cells go up, this predicts a recurrence eight and a half months prior to it being detectable to imaging. So, now we have this window of opportunity for patients and their doctors to strategize and maybe get a cure before a deadly recurrence.”