According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is considered the "most common cancer" in women. Invasive breast cancer is expected to affect 1 in 8 U.S. women over the course of their lives -- and nearly 3.1 million women in the United States alone have a history of breast cancer.
And that's why it's important that every man and woman understands the symptoms. We're not just talking about the lumps, swelling and pain. There are other symptoms of breast cancer that aren't widely known, such as dimpling, irritation, or -- for one woman in particular -- freckles.
One day, Rebecca Hockaday noticed freckles appearing on her chest. The mom of two, from Georgia, simply chalked them up to being in the sun. "Honestly, I thought they were sun spots. I thought they were going to say, 'just your skin aging. Never in a million years did I think, okay, this is going to be cancer," she told Today.
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But, the freckles spread and a few months later, Hockaday made an appointment with her dermatologist. The then 35-year-old mom was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), an even more rare and aggressive form. It had spread to her lymph nodes at the time of diagnosis, according to Today.
According to Dr. Jean Wright, of Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Program, Hockaday's form of breast cancer doesn't symptomize in the same way other breast cancers do. She said to Today, "Half the time there's no lump or anything like that. It's just the kind of skin changes, and so it can relatively easily be mistaken for an infection, mastitis or something like that."
According to BreastCancer.org, IBC only affects less than 1 percent of all breast cancers in the United States. However, since it's so aggressive, it's important that everyone should know the signs. "IBC tends to grow and spread quickly, with symptoms worsening within days or even hours. It's important to recognize symptoms and seek prompt treatment," the organization states on their website.
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"The most characteristic thing is that it happens very quickly. It's usually within one month you notice these significant changes in the skin of (the) breast," Dr. Wright said. Sometimes the skin is wrinkled, inflamed or freckled, like Hockaday's.
Everyone's course of treatment is different. For Hockaday, it included 16 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy. Her body was so weak, the treatment broke many of her ribs.
Now, she's working to educate other women on these silent symptoms. "You just do not think that something (that looks) so innocent can turn out this way. I had no pain, I had no symptoms," Hockaday explained.
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