However, women in developing countries often do not have access to regular pap smears. As a result, these women account for as many as 80 percent of the cases of cervical cancer worldwide. In , the first vaccine against the high-risk types of HPV was approved. Whereas these vaccines were initially only targeted for women, because HPV is sexually transmitted, both men and women require vaccination for this approach to achieve its maximum efficacy.
A recent study suggests that the HPV vaccine has cut the rates of HPV infection by the four targeted strains at least in half. Unfortunately, the high cost of manufacturing the vaccine is currently limiting access to many women worldwide.
Whereas the breasts are located far from the other female reproductive organs, they are considered accessory organs of the female reproductive system. The function of the breasts is to supply milk to an infant in a process called lactation. The external features of the breast include a nipple surrounded by a pigmented areola Figure 9 , whose coloration may deepen during pregnancy.
The areola is typically circular and can vary in size from 25 to mm in diameter. The areolar region is characterized by small, raised areolar glands that secrete lubricating fluid during lactation to protect the nipple from chafing. When a baby nurses, or draws milk from the breast, the entire areolar region is taken into the mouth.
Breast milk is produced by the mammary glands , which are modified sweat glands. The milk itself exits the breast through the nipple via 15 to 20 lactiferous ducts that open on the surface of the nipple.
These lactiferous ducts each extend to a lactiferous sinus that connects to a glandular lobe within the breast itself that contains groups of milk-secreting cells in clusters called alveoli see Figure 9. The clusters can change in size depending on the amount of milk in the alveolar lumen. Once milk is made in the alveoli, stimulated myoepithelial cells that surround the alveoli contract to push the milk to the lactiferous sinuses. From here, the baby can draw milk through the lactiferous ducts by suckling.
The lobes themselves are surrounded by fat tissue, which determines the size of the breast; breast size differs between individuals and does not affect the amount of milk produced. Supporting the breasts are multiple bands of connective tissue called suspensory ligaments that connect the breast tissue to the dermis of the overlying skin. During the normal hormonal fluctuations in the menstrual cycle, breast tissue responds to changing levels of estrogen and progesterone, which can lead to swelling and breast tenderness in some individuals, especially during the secretory phase.
If pregnancy occurs, the increase in hormones leads to further development of the mammary tissue and enlargement of the breasts. Birth control pills take advantage of the negative feedback system that regulates the ovarian and menstrual cycles to stop ovulation and prevent pregnancy. Typically they work by providing a constant level of both estrogen and progesterone, which negatively feeds back onto the hypothalamus and pituitary, thus preventing the release of FSH and LH. Although the estrogen in birth control pills does stimulate some thickening of the endometrial wall, it is reduced compared with a normal cycle and is less likely to support implantation.
Some birth control pills contain 21 active pills containing hormones, and 7 inactive pills placebos. The decline in hormones during the week that the woman takes the placebo pills triggers menses, although it is typically lighter than a normal menstrual flow because of the reduced endometrial thickening. Newer types of birth control pills have been developed that deliver low-dose estrogens and progesterone for the entire cycle these are meant to be taken days a year , and menses never occurs. While some women prefer to have the proof of a lack of pregnancy that a monthly period provides, menstruation every 28 days is not required for health reasons, and there are no reported adverse effects of not having a menstrual period in an otherwise healthy individual.
Because birth control pills function by providing constant estrogen and progesterone levels and disrupting negative feedback, skipping even just one or two pills at certain points of the cycle or even being several hours late taking the pill can lead to an increase in FSH and LH and result in ovulation. It is important, therefore, that the woman follow the directions on the birth control pill package to successfully prevent pregnancy.
Female Reproductive System Female fertility the ability to conceive peaks when women are in their twenties, and is slowly reduced until a women reaches 35 years of age. After that time, fertility declines more rapidly, until it ends completely at the end of menopause. Menopause is the cessation of the menstrual cycle that occurs as a result of the loss of ovarian follicles and the hormones that they produce.
A woman is considered to have completed menopause if she has not menstruated in a full year. After that point, she is considered postmenopausal.
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Poor health, including smoking, can lead to earlier loss of fertility and earlier menopause. As a woman reaches the age of menopause, depletion of the number of viable follicles in the ovaries due to atresia affects the hormonal regulation of the menstrual cycle. During the years leading up to menopause, there is a decrease in the levels of the hormone inhibin, which normally participates in a negative feedback loop to the pituitary to control the production of FSH.
The menopausal decrease in inhibin leads to an increase in FSH.
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The presence of FSH stimulates more follicles to grow and secrete estrogen. Because small, secondary follicles also respond to increases in FSH levels, larger numbers of follicles are stimulated to grow; however, most undergo atresia and die. Eventually, this process leads to the depletion of all follicles in the ovaries, and the production of estrogen falls off dramatically. It is primarily the lack of estrogens that leads to the symptoms of menopause.
Although the levels of estrogen are still nearly the same as before the transition, the level of progesterone produced by the corpus luteum is reduced.
This decline in progesterone can lead to abnormal growth, or hyperplasia, of the endometrium. This condition is a concern because it increases the risk of developing endometrial cancer. Two harmless conditions that can develop during the transition are uterine fibroids, which are benign masses of cells, and irregular bleeding. As estrogen levels change, other symptoms that occur are hot flashes and night sweats, trouble sleeping, vaginal dryness, mood swings, difficulty focusing, and thinning of hair on the head along with the growth of more hair on the face.
Depending on the individual, these symptoms can be entirely absent, moderate, or severe. After menopause, lower amounts of estrogens can lead to other changes. Cardiovascular disease becomes as prevalent in women as in men, possibly because estrogens reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood vessels. When estrogen is lacking, many women find that they suddenly have problems with high cholesterol and the cardiovascular issues that accompany it. Osteoporosis is another problem because bone density decreases rapidly in the first years after menopause.
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The reduction in bone density leads to a higher incidence of fractures. Hormone therapy HT , which employs medication synthetic estrogens and progestins to increase estrogen and progestin levels, can alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause. However, the study was prematurely terminated after 5.
The potential positive effects on cardiovascular disease were also not realized in the estrogen-only patients. The results of other hormone replacement studies over the last 50 years, including a study that followed over 1, menopausal women for 10 years, have shown cardiovascular benefits from estrogen and no increased risk for cancer. Some researchers believe that the age group tested in the trial may have been too old to benefit from the therapy, thus skewing the results.
In the meantime, intense debate and study of the benefits and risks of replacement therapy is ongoing. Current guidelines approve HT for the reduction of hot flashes or flushes, but this treatment is generally only considered when women first start showing signs of menopausal changes, is used in the lowest dose possible for the shortest time possible 5 years or less , and it is suggested that women on HT have regular pelvic and breast exams.
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The external female genitalia are collectively called the vulva. The vagina is the pathway into and out of the uterus. The ovaries produce oocytes, the female gametes, in a process called oogenesis.
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As with spermatogenesis, meiosis produces the haploid gamete in this case, an ovum ; however, it is completed only in an oocyte that has been penetrated by a sperm. In the ovary, an oocyte surrounded by supporting cells is called a follicle. In folliculogenesis, primordial follicles develop into primary, secondary, and tertiary follicles.
Early tertiary follicles with their fluid-filled antrum will be stimulated by an increase in FSH, a gonadotropin produced by the anterior pituitary, to grow in the day ovarian cycle. Supporting granulosa and theca cells in the growing follicles produce estrogens, until the level of estrogen in the bloodstream is high enough that it triggers negative feedback at the hypothalamus and pituitary. This results in a reduction of FSH and LH, and most tertiary follicles in the ovary undergo atresia they die.
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One follicle, usually the one with the most FSH receptors, survives this period and is now called the dominant follicle. The dominant follicle produces more estrogen, triggering positive feedback and the LH surge that will induce ovulation. Following ovulation, the granulosa cells of the empty follicle luteinize and transform into the progesterone-producing corpus luteum. The ovulated oocyte with its surrounding granulosa cells is picked up by the infundibulum of the uterine tube, and beating cilia help to transport it through the tube toward the uterus.
Fertilization occurs within the uterine tube, and the final stage of meiosis is completed. The uterus has three regions: the fundus, the body, and the cervix.
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