The Reproductive System



uman reproduction, always an object of the most intense interest, has lately become the darling of the media, the subject of innumerable television talk shows, magazine articles, and newspaper editorials. With each new medical breakthrough in fertility and family planning, the noise level grows higher. From elementary school onward we're now deluged with information—some factual, some not—on menstruation and menopause, conception and contraception.

Sorting it all out may seem impossible. But a reasonable understanding of the basics of reproduction can make the job easy. As you weigh your options, whether to encourage pregnancy or forestall it, your best resource is a working knowledge of the organs, glands, and hormones that prepare your body for motherhood.

A Quick Review of the Reproductive Anatomy

Our overview of the reproductive system begins at the external genital area— or vulva—which runs from the pubic area downward to the rectum. Two folds of fatty, fleshy tissue surround the entrance to the vagina and the urinary opening: the labia majora, or outer folds, and the labia minora, or inner folds, located under the labia majora. The clitoris, is a relatively short organ (less than one inch long), shielded by a hood of flesh. When stimulated sexually, the clitoris can become erect like a man's penis. The hymen, a thin membrane protecting the entrance of the vagina, stretches when you insert a tampon or have intercourse.

From this point onward, the reproductive system leads deeper and deeper into the body.

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The Vagina

The vagina is a muscular, ridged sheath connecting the external genitals to the uterus, where the embryo grows into a fetus during pregnancy. In the reproductive process, the vagina functions as a two-way street, accepting the penis and sperm during intercourse and roughly nine months later, serving as the avenue of birth through which the new baby enters the world .

The Cervix

The vagina ends at the cervix, the lower portion or neck of the uterus. Like the vagina, the cervix has dual reproductive functions.

After intercourse, sperm ejaculated in the vagina pass through the cervix, then proceed through the uterus to the fallopian tubes where, if a sperm encounters an ovum (egg), conception occurs. The cervix is lined with mucus, the quality and quantity of which is governed by monthly fluctuations in the levels of the two principle sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone.

When estrogen levels are low, the mucus tends to be thick and sparse, which makes it difficult for sperm to reach the fallopian tubes. But when an egg is ready for fertilization and estrogen levels are high the mucus then becomes thin and slippery, offering a much more friendly environment to sperm as they struggle towards their goal. (This phenomenon is employed by birth control pills, shots and implants. One of the ways they prevent conception is to render the cervical mucus thick, sparse, and hostile to sperm.)


Deep within the pelvic region lie the specialized female organs that make conception and pregnancy possible. In this cutaway view, you can see how the cervix acts as the gateway between the vagina and the uterus, where an egg, if fertilized, will be nurtured and, over the course of nine months, grow to be a newborn child. Riding atop the uterus are the two ovaries, storehouse of all a woman's eggs. The fallopian tubes, where fertilization by a sperm will occur, are narrow conduits connecting each ovary to the uterus.

Later, at the end of pregnancy, the cervix acts as the passage through which the baby exits the uterus into the vagina. The cervical canal expands to roughly 50 times its normal width in order to accommodate the passage of the baby during birth.

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The Uterus

The uterus is the muscular organ which holds the developing baby during the nine months after conception. Like the cervical canal, the uterus expands considerably during the reproductive process. In fact, the organ grows to from 10 to 20 times its normal size during pregnancy.


Note the thick muscular walls—crucial when the baby is ready for delivery—and the lush inner lining, or endometrium, which nurtures the developing egg. From this angle, you can also see how the fallopian tubes cradle the ovaries in their feathery fimbria, ready to conduct a mature egg away from the ovary and on into the uterus.

Each month the uterus goes through a cyclical change, first building up its endometrium or inner lining to receive a fertilized egg, then, if conception does not occur, shedding the unused tissue through the vagina in the monthly process called menstruation.

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The Fallopian Tubes

Beyond the uterus, the fallopian tubes connect the rest of the system to the ultimate source of the eggs, the two ovaries. Each of these tubes is roughly five inches long and ranges in width from about one inch at the end next to the ovary, to the diameter of a strand of thin spaghetti.

The trumpet-shaped part near the ovary has about 20 to 25 feathery projections called fimbria, one of which is attached to the ovary. It is the fimbria that each month urge an egg to exit the ovary and begin its trip towards the uterus.

The Ovaries

The ovaries are a woman's storehouse of egg cells. They are among the first organs to be formed as a female baby develops in the uterus. At the 20-week mark, the structures that will become the ovaries house roughly 6 to 7 million potential egg cells. From that point on, the number begins to decrease rapidly. A newborn infant has between 1 million to 2 million egg cells. By puberty the number has plummeted to 300,000. For every egg that matures and undergoes ovulation, roughly a thousand will fail, so that by menopause, only a few thousand remain. During the course of an average reproductive lifespan, roughly 300 mature eggs are produced for potential conception.

The egg cells remain inactive until puberty, when the reproductive system is activated by a cascade of substances called sex hormones. Then, each month about 20 egg cells, each encased in a sac called a follicle, begin to ripen. Responding selectively to the sex hormones, one follicle becomes dominant while the others shrink away. The egg within the dominant follicle continues ripening to maturity. Then, helped by the feathery fimbria, it exits the ovary and enters the adjacent fallopian tube to be either fertilized or, if conception fails to occur, expelled from the body during menstruation.

If fertilization is to occur, it usually happens when the egg's journey is about one-third complete. Once a sperm unites with the egg, its surrounding gelatinous coat releases substances that prevent more sperm from entering.

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The Corpus Luteum

The fertilized egg then continues on its journey through the fallopian tube. About four or five days after fertilization, it enters the uterus and implants itself on the endometrium, which has been primed by the sex hormones to accept and nurture it.


Host to a lifetime supply of eggs, the ovaries each month launch about 20 contenders towards potential conception. Each ripens in a supporting follicle, growth of which is triggered by the aptly named “follicle-stimulating hormone.” In turn, the winning follicle gives off increasing amounts of the hormone estrogen, which prepares the lining of the uterus for pregnancy. Once a mature egg has begun its trip through the fallopian tube, remnants of the winning follicle form the corpus luteum, or “yellow body.” Progesterone from the corpus luteum halts development of the remaining follicles and brings the lining of the uterus to peak preparedness.

Meanwhile, the follicle that held the egg still has a critical role to play. First it shrinks markedly, then begins to accumulate fatty substances, or lipids, that give it a yellowish tinge. The resulting structure, now called the corpus luteum (yellow body), produces progesterone and estradiol, two of the hormones critical to reproduction.

In a non-pregnant woman, the corpus luteum lasts for about 14 days, after which it shrinks and dries up, eventually becoming a speck of fibrous scar tissue. If conception occurs, however, a hormone from the developing placenta, which surrounds the baby in the uterus, stimulates the corpus luteum to maintain its production of progesterone during the first trimester of pregnancy.



All living things reproduce. Reproduction — the process by which organisms make more organisms like themselves — is one of the things that sets living things apart from nonliving things. But even though the reproductive system is essential to keeping a species alive, unlike other body systems it's not essential to keeping an individual alive.

In the human reproductive process, two kinds of sex cells, or gametes, are involved. The male gamete, or sperm, and the female gamete, the egg or ovum, meet in the female's reproductive system to create a new individual. Both the male and female reproductive systems are essential for reproduction.

Humans, like other organisms, pass certain characteristics of themselves to the next generation through their genes, the special carriers of human traits. The genes parents pass along to their offspring are what make kids similar to others in their family, but they're also what make each child unique. These genes come from the father's sperm and the mother's egg, which are produced by the male and female reproductive systems.

Understanding the male reproductive system, what it does, and the problems that can affect it can help you better understand your son's reproductive health.

About the Male Reproductive System

Most species have two sexes: male and female. Each sex has its own unique reproductive system. They are different in shape and structure, but both are specifically designed to produce, nourish, and transport either the egg or sperm.

Unlike the female, whose sex organs are located entirely within the pelvis, the male has reproductive organs, or genitals, that are both inside and outside the pelvis. The male genitals include:

  • the testicles
  • the duct system, which is made up of the epididymis and the vas deferens
  • the accessory glands, which include the seminal vesicles and prostate gland
  • the penis

In a guy who has reached sexual maturity, the two testicles, or testes, produce and store millions of tiny sperm cells. The testicles are oval-shaped and grow to be about 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length and 1 inch (3 centimeters) in diameter. The testicles are also part of the endocrine system because they produce hormones, including testosterone. Testosterone is a major part of puberty in boys, and as a guy makes his way through puberty, his testicles produce more and more of it. Testosterone is the hormone that causes boys to develop deeper voices, bigger muscles, and body and facial hair, and it also stimulates the production of sperm.

Alongside the testicles are the epididymis and the vas deferens, which make up the duct system of the male reproductive organs. The vas deferens is a muscular tube that passes upward alongside the testicles and transports the sperm-containing fluid called semen. The epididymis is a set of coiled tubes (one for each testicle) that connects to the vas deferens.

The epididymis and the testicles hang in a pouch-like structure outside the pelvis called the scrotum. This bag of skin helps to regulate the temperature of testicles, which need to be kept cooler than body temperature to produce sperm. The scrotum changes size to maintain the right temperature. When the body is cold, the scrotum shrinks and becomes tighter to hold in body heat. When it's warm, the scrotum becomes larger and more floppy to get rid of extra heat. This happens without a guy ever having to think about it. The brain and the nervous system give the scrotum the cue to change size.

The accessory glands, including the seminal vesicles and the prostate gland, provide fluids that lubricate the duct system and nourish the sperm. The seminal vesicles are sac-like structures attached to the vas deferens to the side of the bladder. The prostate gland, which produces some of the parts of semen, surrounds the ejaculatory ducts at the base of the urethra, just below the bladder. The urethra is the channel that carries the semen to the outside of the body through the penis. The urethra is also part of the urinary system because it is also the channel through which urine passes as it leaves the bladder and exits the body.

The penis is actually made up of two parts: the shaft and the glans. The shaft is the main part of the penis and the glans is the tip (sometimes called the head). At the end of the glans is a small slit or opening, which is where semen and urine exit the body through the urethra. The inside of the penis is made of a spongy tissue that can expand and contract.

All boys are born with a foreskin, a fold of skin at the end of the penis covering the glans. Some boys are circumcised, which means that a doctor or clergy member cuts away the foreskin. Circumcision is usually performed during a baby boy's first few days of life. Although circumcision is not medically necessary, parents who choose to have their children circumcised often do so based on religious beliefs, concerns about hygiene, or cultural or social reasons. Boys who have circumcised penises and those who don't are no different: All penises work and feel the same, regardless of whether the foreskin has been removed.

What the Male Reproductive System Does

The male sex organs work together to produce and release semen into the reproductive system of the female during sexual intercourse. The male reproductive system also produces sex hormones, which help a boy develop into a sexually mature man during puberty.

When a baby boy is born, he has all the parts of his reproductive system in place, but it isn't until puberty that he is able to reproduce. When puberty begins, usually between the ages of 10 and 14, the pituitary gland — which is located near the brain — secretes hormones that stimulate the testicles to produce testosterone. The production of testosterone brings about many physical changes. Although the timing of these changes is different for every guy, the stages of puberty generally follow a set sequence.

  • During the first stage of male puberty, the scrotum and testes grow larger.
  • Next, the penis becomes longer, and the seminal vesicles and prostate gland grow.
  • Hair begins to appear in the pubic area and later it grows on the face and underarms. During this time, a male's voice also deepens.
  • Boys also undergo a growth spurt during puberty as they reach their adult height and weight.

A male who has reached puberty will produce millions of sperm cells every day. Each sperm is extremely small: only 1/600 of an inch (0.05 millimeters long). Sperm develop in the testicles within a system of tiny tubes called the seminiferous tubules. At birth, these tubules contain simple round cells, but during puberty, testosterone and other hormones cause these cells to transform into sperm cells. The cells divide and change until they have a head and short tail, like tadpoles. The head contains genetic material (genes). The sperm use their tails to push themselves into the epididymis, where they complete their development. It takes sperm about 4 to 6 weeks to travel through the epididymis.

The sperm then move to the vas deferens, or sperm duct. The seminal vesicles and prostate gland produce a whitish fluid called seminal fluid, which mixes with sperm to form semen when a male is sexually stimulated. The penis, which usually hangs limp, becomes hard when a male is sexually excited. Tissues in the penis fill with blood and it becomes stiff and erect (an erection). The rigidity of the erect penis makes it easier to insert into the female's vagina during sexual intercourse. When the erect penis is stimulated, muscles around the reproductive organs contract and force the semen through the duct system and urethra. Semen is pushed out of the male's body through his urethra — this process is called ejaculation. Each time a guy ejaculates, it can contain up to 500 million sperm.

When the male ejaculates during intercourse, semen is deposited into the female's vagina. From the vagina the sperm make their way up through the cervix and move through the uterus with help from uterine contractions. If a mature egg is in one of the female's fallopian tubes, a single sperm may penetrate it, and fertilization, or conception, occurs.

This fertilized egg is now called a zygote and contains 46 chromosomes — half from the egg and half from the sperm. The genetic material from the male and female has combined so that a new individual can be created. The zygote divides again and again as it grows in the female's uterus, maturing over the course of the pregnancy into an embryo, a fetus, and finally a newborn baby.

Things That Can Go Wrong With the Male Reproductive System

Boys may sometimes experience reproductive system problems, including:

Disorders of the Scrotum, Testicles, or Epididymis
Conditions affecting the scrotal contents may involve the testicles, epididymis, or the scrotum itself.

  • Testicular trauma. Even a mild injury to the testicles can cause severe pain, bruising, or swelling. Most testicular injuries occur when the testicles are struck, hit, kicked, or crushed, usually during sports or due to other trauma. Testicular torsion, when one of the testicles twists around, cutting off its blood supply, is also a problem that some teen males experience, although it's not common. Surgery is needed to untwist the cord and save the testicle.
  • Varicocele. This is a varicose vein (an abnormally swollen vein) in the network of veins that run from the testicles. Varicoceles commonly develop while a boy is going through puberty. A varicocele is usually not harmful, although it can damage the testicle or decrease sperm production. Take your son to see his doctor if he is concerned about changes in his testicles.
  • Testicular cancer. This is one of the most common cancers in men younger than 40. It occurs when cells in the testicle divide abnormally and form a tumor. Testicular cancer can spread to other parts of the body, but if it's detected early, the cure rate is excellent. Teen boys should be encouraged to learn to perform testicular self-examinations.
  • Epididymitis is inflammation of the epididymis, the coiled tubes that connect the testes with the vas deferens. It is usually caused by an infection, such as the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia, and results in pain and swelling next to one of the testicles.
  • Hydrocele. A hydrocele occurs when fluid collects in the membranes surrounding the testes. Hydroceles may cause swelling in the scrotum around the testicle but are generally painless. In some cases, surgery may be needed to correct the condition.
  • Inguinal hernia. When a portion of the intestines pushes through an abnormal opening or weakening of the abdominal wall and into the groin or scrotum, it is known as an inguinal hernia. The hernia may look like a bulge or swelling in the groin area. It can be corrected with surgery.

Disorders of the Penis

Disorders affecting the penis include:

  • Inflammation of the penis. Symptoms of penile inflammation include redness, itching, swelling, and pain. Balanitis occurs when the glans (the head of the penis) becomes inflamed. Posthitis is foreskin inflammation, which is usually due to a yeast or bacterial infection.
  • Hypospadias. This is a disorder in which the urethra opens on the underside of the penis, not at the tip.
  • Phimosis. This is a tightness of the foreskin of the penis and is common in newborns and young children. It usually resolves itself without treatment. If it interferes with urination, circumcision (removal of the foreskin) may be recommended.
  • Paraphimosis. This may develop when a boy's uncircumcised penis is retracted but doesn't return to the unretracted position. As a result, blood flow to the head of the penis may be impaired, and your son may experience pain and swelling. A doctor may use lubricant to make a small incision so the foreskin can be pulled forward. If that doesn't work, circumcision may be recommended.
  • Ambiguous genitalia. This occurs when a child is born with genitals that aren't clearly male or female. In most boys born with this disorder, the penis may be very small or nonexistent, but testicular tissue is present. In a small number of cases, the child may have both testicular and ovarian tissue.
  • Micropenis. This is a disorder in which the penis, although normally formed, is well below the average size, as determined by standard measurements.

If your son has symptoms of a problem with his reproductive system or he has questions about growth and sexual development, talk with your doctor — many problems with the male reproductive system can be treated.


The Male Reproductive System

The purpose of the organs of the male reproductive system is to perform the following functions:


  • To produce, maintain and transport sperm (the male reproductive cells) and protective fluid (semen)
  • To discharge sperm within the female reproductive tract during sex
  • To produce and secrete male sex hormones responsible for maintaining the male reproductive system


Unlike the female reproductive system, most of the male reproductive system is located outside of the body. These external structures include the penis, scrotum, and testicles.

  • Penis: This is the male organ used in sexual intercourse. It has 3 parts: the root, which attaches to the wall of the abdomen; the body, or shaft; and the glans, which is the cone-shaped part at the end of the penis. The glans, also called the head of the penis, is covered with a loose layer of skin called foreskin. (This skin is sometimes removed in a procedure called circumcision.) The opening of the urethra, the tube that transports semen and urine, is at the tip of the penis. The penis also contains a number of sensitive nerve endings.

    The body of the penis is cylindrical in shape and consists of 3 circular shaped chambers. These chambers are made up of special, sponge-like tissue. This tissue contains thousands of large spaces that fill with blood when the man is sexually aroused. As the penis fills with blood, it becomes rigid and erect, which allows for penetration during sexual intercourse. The skin of the penis is loose and elastic to accommodate changes in penis size during an erection.

    Semen, which contains sperm (reproductive cells), is expelled (ejaculated) through the end of the penis when the man reaches sexual climax (orgasm). When the penis is erect, the flow of urine is blocked from the urethra, allowing only semen to be ejaculated at orgasm.

  • Scrotum: This is the loose pouch-like sac of skin that hangs behind the penis. It contains the testicles (also called testes), as well as many nerves and blood vessels. The scrotum acts as a "climate control system" for the testes. For normal sperm development, the testes must be at a temperature slightly cooler than body temperature. Special muscles in the wall of the scrotum allow it to contract and relax, moving the testicles closer to the body for warmth or farther away from the body to cool the temperature.
  • Testicles (testes): These are oval organs about the size of large olives that lie in the scrotum, secured at either end by a structure called the spermatic cord. Most men have two testes. The testes are responsible for making testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, and for generating sperm. Within the testes are coiled masses of tubes called seminiferous tubules. These tubes are responsible for producing sperm cells.

The Male Reproductive System



The internal organs of the male reproductive system, also called accessory organs, include the following:

  • Epididymis: The epididymis is a long, coiled tube that rests on the backside of each testicle. It transports and stores sperm cells that are produced in the testes. It also is the job of the epididymis to bring the sperm to maturity, since the sperm that emerge from the testes are immature and incapable of fertilization. During sexual arousal, contractions force the sperm into the vas deferens.
  • Vas deferens: The vas deferens is a long, muscular tube that travels from the epididymis into the pelvic cavity, to just behind the bladder. The vas deferens transports mature sperm to the urethra, the tube that carries urine or sperm to outside of the body, in preparation for ejaculation.
  • Ejaculatory ducts: These are formed by the fusion of the vas deferens and the seminal vesicles (see below). The ejaculatory ducts empty into the urethra.
  • Urethra: The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside of the body. In males, it has the additional function of ejaculating semen when the man reaches orgasm. When the penis is erect during sex, the flow of urine is blocked from the urethra, allowing only semen to be ejaculated at orgasm.
  • Seminal vesicles: The seminal vesicles are sac-like pouches that attach to the vas deferens near the base of the bladder. The seminal vesicles produce a sugar-rich fluid (fructose) that provides sperm with a source of energy to help them move. The fluid of the seminal vesicles makes up most of the volume of a man's ejaculatory fluid, or ejaculate.
  • Prostate gland: The prostate gland is a walnut-sized structure that is located below the urinary bladder in front of the rectum. The prostate gland contributes additional fluid to the ejaculate. Prostate fluids also help to nourish the sperm. The urethra, which carries the ejaculate to be expelled during orgasm, runs through the center of the prostate gland.
  • Bulbourethral glands: Also called Cowper's glands, these are pea-sized structures located on the sides of the urethra just below the prostate gland. These glands produce a clear, slippery fluid that empties directly into the urethra. This fluid serves to lubricate the urethra and to neutralize any acidity that may be present due to residual drops of urine in the urethra.


How Does the Male Reproductive System Function?

The entire male reproductive system is dependent on hormones, which are chemicals that regulate the activity of many different types of cells or organs. The primary hormones involved in the male reproductive system are follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and testosterone.

Follicle-stimulating hormone is necessary for sperm production (spermatogenesis) and luteinizing hormone stimulates the production of testosterone, which is also needed to make sperm. Testosterone is responsible for the development of male characteristics, including muscle mass and strength, fat distribution, bone mass, facial hair growth, voice change and sex drive.


Function of the Reproductive Systems

The reproductive system includes the gonads -male testes and female ovaries and other accessory ducts and glands (gonos = seed). These provide the means for reproduction, the continuation of the species, and passing on of genetic material to the next generation. Many of the hormones associated with the reproductive system have already been covered in the section about the Endocrine system. Puberty begins when hormones are secreted by the pituitary glands, these control the growth and development of the gonads.


The Male Reproductive Organs

Male reproductive organs include testes which produce spermatoza and hormones; a series of ducts that store and transport the sperm; accessory sex glands (including the prostate gland) secrete seminal fluid, and the penis .


The Female Reproductive Organs

Female reproductive organs include the ovaries which produce mature ova (eggs) and hormones; the fallopian tubes which transport ova to the uterus; the vagina; the vulva; and also the mammary glands of the breasts


The Breasts

Each breast has 15 to 20 sections called lobes, which have many smaller sections called lobules. The lobes and lobules are connected by thin tubes called ducts.


Reproduction and Development

Development of the embryo. After successful fertilisation of the egg the embryo is formed. At the end of the embryonic period (first two months) the basis for all the main adult organs are present. This is followed by the fetal period, during which the fetus develops.

Inheritance is the passing of hereditary traits from one generation to the next - genetics .


Roots, suffixes, and prefixes

component meaning example
ANTE- before antenatal = before the birth of a baby
COLP- vagina e.g colpotomy = incision into the vaginal wall.
MAMM- breast mammography = imaging of the breasts
MAST- breast mastectomy =surgical removal of a breast or part of a breast
NEO- new neonatal = the first 4 weeks after birth
GYN- woman gynocologist = medical specialist in diseases of the genital tract in women.


Cancer Focus


Breast Cancer Overview
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women aged between 35 to 54, incidence has increased such that 1 in 9 women develop breast cancer in the USA. Worldwide 700,000 cases are diagnosed each year. The most common type of breast cancer that found in the cells of the breast ducts, other types include those of the lobes, and inflammatory breast cancer. If a lump is detected a biopsy will be required to see if it malignant (most lumps are benign). If the lump is cancerous hormone tests will be carried out on the cells (estrogen and progesterone receptor tests). If the cells are responsive to these hormones then these may be used to stop the lump growing. Further treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. Chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy may be required. Total mastectomy is removal of the whole breast, in radical mastectomy the chest muscles and under-arm lymph nodes are also removed. More recently there has been an increased use of lumpectomy where only the lump and surrounding tissue is removed. Following surgery radiotherapy may be required. Reconstructive surgery is the rebuilding the breast with other tissue or implants, this may be done at the time of mastectomy or at a later time. Between 5 and 10% of breast cancers are known to be hereditary, women with the defective BRCA1 gene are more likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer.
Internet Resources for Breast Cancer


Breast Cancer Prevention and Early Detection
When breast cancer is found and treated early, a woman has more treatment options and a better chance of cure. Both breast self examination and screening programs have the potential to catch breast cancer at a less advanced stage with a better chance of survival.


Male Breast Cancer
Male breast cancer is uncommon, men account for approximately 1% of all breast cancer cases. Incidence in Western populations is under 1 case per 100,000 men, though rates reported in some African countries are much higher. The majority of male breast cancers are of the infiltrating ductal type, this is where the cancer has spread beyond the cells lining ducts in the breast. In many respects male breast cancer is similar to that found in women, though in general men tend to be older than women at diagnosis. Treatment tends to be the same as that for women with breast cancer of the same type and stage.
Internet Resources for Male Breast Cancer


Gynacological (women's) Cancers
Gynaecological cancers are a group of different malignancies of the female reproductive system. The most common types of gynaecologic malignancies are cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial (uterus) cancer. There are other less common gynaecological malignancies including cancer of the vagina, cancer of the vulva, gestational trophoblastic tumours, and fallopian tube cancer. Occasionally skin cancers or sarcomas can also be found in the female genitalia. Generally, most gynaecological cancers are found in women aged over 50, though the incidence rates for younger women have been rising.
Internet Resources for Gynaecological Cancers


Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a common type of malignancy accounting for about 6% of all cancers found in women. It is a disease in which cancerous cells develop in the uterine cervix (this is the connecting passage between the uterus and vagina). The peak incidence of cervical cancer occurs between the ages of 40 to 55. It is rare before the age of 35, however the incidence of cervical cancer in younger women rose dramatically during the two decades after 1960. Regular Pap smear tests may detect abnormal changes in the cervical tissues, before cancer develops. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include vaginal bleeding after intercourse or bleeding between periods. However, in the early stages of the disease there are often no obvious signs or symptoms, so regular smear tests are important.
Internet Resources for Cervical Cancer


Ovarian Cancer
Cancer of the ovaries are the second most common group of gynaecologic cancers, and account for about 5% of all women's cancers. There are two main types; (i) epithelial tumours (carcinomas) which account for 90% of ovarian cancers, and (ii) non-epithelial tumours (eg. Stroma cell and germ cell tumours of the ovary). The epithelial ovarian cancers are usually found in women aged over 40, while the non-epithelial tumours are more common in girls and young women. Epithelial ovarian cancer has few early symptoms, a risk factor is having a family history of the disease. Taking the contraceptive pill is known to be protective against ovarian cancer.
Internet Resources for Ovarian Ca.


Vaginal Cancer
Cancer of the vagina is relatively rare, accounting for about 2% of gynaecological malignancies. There are two main types of vaginal cancer; squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma. Over four fifths of all vaginal cancers are squamous carcinoma, this is more common in women between the ages of 60 and 80. The other type of vaginal cancer; adenocarcinoma is usually found in young women under 30 years old.
Internet Resources for Vaginal Cancer


Uterus and Endometrial Carcinoma
Endometrial cancer is a malignancy of the endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus, or womb) and is the most common gynaecological cancer, and accounts for 13% of all cancers in women. It is most frequently in women over age 50. A know risk factor is prior oestrogen-replacement therapy (however, oestrogen replacement also lowers risk of heart disease). Symptoms can include pelvic pain, and blood-soaked discharge - though these are also common symptoms related to menopausal changes.
Internet Resources for Endometrial Ca.


Cancer of the Vulva
The vulva is the outer part of the vagina, cancer of the vulvar is a rare type of malignancy, usually found in women aged over 50 - though the incidence of this cancer in younger women has been reported to be increasing. Women with persistent itching and changes in the colour vulva have a higher risk of cancer of the vulva. Research suggests that human papillomavirus (HPV) may have a role in causing this and other gynaecological cancers.
Internet Resources for Vulva Cancer


Uterine Sarcoma
Uterine sarcoma is a rare kind of cancer in which the cells in the muscles or other supporting tissues of the uterus become cancerous, and represents 1% of gynaecological cancers overall. This is very different to endometrial (uterus) cancer - see above. There are two main histological sub-types; leiomyosarcoma, and stromal sarcoma. A known risk factor for developing uterine sarcoma is prior radiotherapy to the pelvic area, this is estimated to account for between 10% to 25% of cases.
Internet Resources for Uterine sarcoma


Gestational Trophoblastic Cancer
Gestational trophoblastic tumour is a rare type of malignancy in which the tissues formed in the uterus following conception become cancerous. There are three types of gestational trophoblastic tumours: (i) hydatidiform mole - this is where the sperm and egg have joined but the tissues formed develop into a cyst; and (ii) choriocarcinoma - this can begin from a hydatidiform mole or from tissue that remains in the uterus following the delivery of a baby; (iii) placental-site trophoblastic disease - this is very rare and starts in the area of the uterus where the placenta was attached.
Internet Resources for Gestational Trophoblastic Disease


Fallopian Tube Cancer
Cancer starting in the fallopian tubes is very rare, less than 2,000 cases have been reported world-wide. Most cancers found in the fallopian tubes have actually spread from other places such as the ovaries. Most fallopian tube cancers are found in post menopausal women.
Internet Resources for Fallopian Tube ca.


Genitourinary (Men's) Cancers
The most common type of male genital malignancy is prostate cancer (over 90% of male genital cancers), This is more common in older men. Incidence rates have increased in recent years (SEER data). Testicular cancer is less common (6% of male genital cancers), but it is the most frequent cancer in young men between the age of 15 to 35. Other types of cancers arising in the male genitals are rare, these include penile cancer, scrotum cancers and spermic cord cancer
Internet Resources for Genitourinary Cancers


Testicular Cancer
Testicular cancer is most common cancer in men between 15 to 35 years old. There are two broad types: seminoma and nonseminoma histologies. The nonseminoma group of cancers includes embryonal carcinoma, teratoma, yolk sac carcinoma and choriocarcinoma. The two testicles (or testis) produce sperm and male hormones. Men who have an undescended testicle (a testicle that didn't move down into the scrotum) are at higher risk of developing testicular cancer. World-wide about 36,000 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year.
Internet Resources for Testicular Cancer


Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer accounts for over a quater of all cancers in men. The prostate is a small male sex gland located below the bladder, it produces fluid that becomes semen. Prostate cancer occurs mostly in older men, it is rare before the age of 50, and the risk increases with age. There has been an increase in the incidence of prostate cancer since the early 1980's, most likely due to an increased use of screening using the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. However, the role as screening for prostate cancer remains controversial. World-wide about 395,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year.
Internet Resources for Prostate Cancer


Penile Cancer
Cancer of the penis is rare in industrialised countries, accounting for about 1% of male genital cancers, there are however large international and racial differences in incidence. The disease is more common in developing countries.
Internet Resources for Penile Cancer


Childhood Germcell Tumours
Germ cell tumours (GCT) are most commonly found in children and young adults. Germ cell tumours found in children tend to be of different histology compared to those found in adults. Germ cells are cells which become the embryo that develops in the womb. Some germ cells may remain in different parts of the child's body after birth and may give rise to tumours. The most common sites are the testes, the ovaries or the sacrococcygael region. They may also arise in other sites in the body e.g in the brain (intracranial GCT). Germ Cell tumours produce alphafetoprotein (AFP) and human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) that can be detected in blood samples to aid diagnosis.


Chemotherapy and Fertility
Fertility may be affected by chemotherapy. Depending on the type of drugs given there may be a risk of infertility. For female patients certain drugs can cause permanent damage to the ovaries, and the patient may have an early menopause. Male patients may also be effected by chemotherapy which may cause a low sperm count. Male patients who are old enough may leave a sample of sperm in a sperm bank prior to chemotherapy.

Related Abbreviations and Acronyms:


ABC Advanced Breast Cancer
AFP Alphafetoprotein - eg. expressed by germ cell tumours and other cancers
BSE Breast Self Examination
DCIS Ductal Carcinoma In Situ - type of breast cancer
FIGO Federation Internat. Gyn. Obst. (FIGO Gynaecological staging system)
GCT Germ Cell Tumour
GU Genito-urinary
HPV Human Papilloma Virus - implicated in some gynacological cancers
HRT Hormone replacement therapy
LCIS Lobular Carcinoma In Situ - type of breast cancer
LMP Low Malignant Potential (context: ovarian tumours)
Lx Lumpectomy
Mx Mastectomy
NABCO National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations
PSA prostate-specific antigen - PSA test used in screening for prostate cancer
SGO Society of Gynecologic Oncologists
YST Yolk sac tumour - (aka. germ cell tumour)

More Cancer Related Abbreviations