Basal-Like Breast Cancer - Defintion and Characteristics

How is Basal-Like Breast Cancer Different From Other Cancers?

Breast cancer cells.
Breast cancer cells. Science Photo Library

What is the definition of basal-like breast cancer, and how is it similar or different from other breast cancers? What treatments are used for this type of breast cancer and what is the prognosis?

Definition: Basal-Like Breast Cancer

Basal-like or basaloid breast cancer is defined by its specific pattern of gene expression that is similar to normal breast basal cells. This type of breast cancer is often triple-negative - meaning that it does not have estrogen, progesterone, or HER2 receptors on the surface of the cells.

How is Basal-Like Breast Cancer Similar and Different From Other Breast Cancers?

Basal-like breast cancer appears to arise in the basal lamina of a breast cancer cell. It is very similar to triple negative breast cancer, but not the same. This is a difficult concept to explain, but even though most triple negative breast cancers are basal-like, and most basal-like breast cancers are triple negative, they do not overlap in all areas.

Characteristics and Risks

Basal-like breast cancer accounts for roughly 15% of breast cancers. It is somewhat unique among breast cancers in several ways:

  • It tends to occur in young women, under the age of 40. It is a less common form of breast cancer in men.
  • It is more common in African-American women and possibly hispanics, and is less common among whites.
  • Many people with this type of cancer - roughly 85% - have a p53 gene mutation. The p53 gene codes for a protein that acts to suppress the formation and growth of tumors, and is known as a tumor suppressor gene.
  • This type of cancer is rare among women who have a BRCA1 gene mutation.
  • These cancer tend to have a high grade when viewed under the microscope, and be aggressive. After they are treated they have a strong tendency to recur.
  • These cancers tend to be diagnosed at a later stage - when the tumor is larger, or has already spread.

    Treatment Options

    Surgery is the treatment of choice for people with basal-like breast cancer. Radiation therapy may be used as well. Although chemotherapy does not work particularly well relative to some other cancers, this therapy is often used for women with this type of breast cancer.

    Since the tumors are estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor negative, hormonal therapies such as Tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors are not effective in improving the survival for those with the disease.

    Since basal-like breast cancer is usually HER2 negative as well, medications such as Herceptin are not an option.


    The prognosis of basal-like breast cancer is poorer than with many other types of breast cancer. Part of this is due to the aggressiveness of the tumor, and part because treatments such as hormonal therapy and targeted therapies are not effective.


    It can be very frightening to be diagnosed with an uncommon type of breast cancer, especially one that has a poor prognosis. Make sure to express your emotions about your diagnosis. You don't need to "be strong" and you certainly don't have to be positive all the time. Consider joining a support group in your community, or an online cancer community.

    Going online may give you an opportunity to communicate with others facing basal-like breast cancer, not just breast cancer in general. And check out these safe and creative outlets for coping with breast cancer.

    Pronunciation: BAY-sul sell

    Also Known As: basaloid

    Common Misspellings: basel, basil, baysel

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