Mom's freckles turn out to be a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer

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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Eating bananas, grapes and apples as an adolescent helped lower one's risk of breast cancer, while the same occurred when eating oranges in early adulthood.
​Eating bananas, grapes and apples as an adolescent helped lower one's risk of breast cancer, while the same occurred when eating oranges in early adulthood.
​Eating bananas, grapes and apples as an adolescent helped lower one's risk of breast cancer, while the same occurred when eating oranges in early adulthood.
​Eating bananas, grapes and apples as an adolescent helped lower one's risk of breast cancer, while the same occurred when eating oranges in early adulthood.
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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.

h/t Today

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Tattoo artist gives new nipples to breast cancer survivors
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Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, takes a picture of the nipple he has tattooed on the reconstructed breast of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera TEMPLATE OUT
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, reacts upon inspecting the breasts of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Inks are seen on a table as tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada tattoos breast cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, inspects the breasts of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana VeraTEMPLATE OUT
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, drives to the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, inspects the breasts of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, gets a hug from cancer survivor Mamen Malagon after tattooing a nipple on her reconstructed breast at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, tattoos a nipple on the reconstructed breast of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera TEMPLATE OUT
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada works on a tattoo at his tattoo parlour in Madrid, Spain, March 24, 2017. Picture taken March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, finishes tattooing a nipple on the reconstructed breast of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera TEMPLATE OUT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada works on a tattoo at his tattoo parlour in Madrid, Spain, March 24, 2017. Picture taken March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Cancer survivor Mamen Malagon reacts as tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind from an eye due to a tumour, tattoos a nipple on her reconstructed breast at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017.REUTERS/Susana Vera TEMPLATE OUT
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, jokes with breast cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera TEMPLATE OUT
A painting of tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada hangs from the wall next to his bag at his tattoo parlour in Madrid, Spain, March 24, 2017. Picture taken March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
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