By: Tina Andrews
The human female reproductive system includes the external genitals, vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Diseases of the female reproductive system affect millions of American women of all ages each year. These diseases may adversely affect fertility, diminish quality of life or cause potentially life-threatening illness. Regular medical care and treatment for existing diseases of the female reproductive system can help minimize the effects of these conditions.
The tissue lining the womb or uterus is the endometrium. This tissue grows during the menstrual cycle and is sloughed each month with the menstrual period if pregnancy does not occur. Endometriosis is a condition wherein endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus, usually in other sites within the pelvis. The ovaries, fallopian tubes and the outside of the uterus are common sites affected by endometriosis, notes the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The endometrial tissue in these locations undergoes the same growth and sloughing as the endometrial lining of the womb. Although endometriosis may not cause symptoms, many women experience pelvic pain with this disorder. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates 5.5 million women are affected by endometriosis in North America. According to NIH, endometriosis is a leading cause of female infertility. An estimated 30 to 40 percent of women with endometriosis have difficulty conceiving.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease or PID is an infection of the womb and fallopian tubes--the structures that carry eggs from the ovaries to the womb. Bacteria from the vagina and cervix migrate upward into the uterus and fallopian tubes causing PID. PID can develop as a complication of sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. Scarring of the fallopian tubes can occur with PID, which may lead to infertility. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports approximately 10 percent of women with PID become infertile due to the infection. Fallopian tube scarring also increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy in which a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube rather than in the womb. Notably, PID may cause few or no symptoms to alert a woman to the presence of the infection. CDC estimates more one million American women contract PID each year, with sexually active women younger than age 25 at greatest risk.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), more than 42,000 American women were diagnosed with endometrial or uterine cancer in 2009. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) advises that estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for postmenopausal women increases the risk of uterine cancer. However, combined estrogen plus progestin HRT does not increase the risk for endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer most commonly affects women older than age 50. Obesity and use of the medication tamoxifen increase the risk for uterine cancer.
The cervix is the opening to the uterus located at the upper end of the vagina. ACS reports cervical cancer was diagnosed in approximately 11,270 American women in 2009, representing less than two percent of all cancer diagnoses in women. Cervical infection with certain strains of human papillomaviruses that cause genital warts increases the risk for cervical cancer, according to NCI. Other factors associated with increased cervical cancer risk include smoking and long-term use of birth control pills.