Gynecology is the specialized field of medicine dealing with the health of a woman's genital system. The genital system consists of the reproductive organs, including the uterus (the womb; the organ in which a fetus develops), cervix (the opening between the uterus and the vagina), ovaries (organs that produce eggs and sex hormones), fallopian tubes (organs that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus), vagina (the muscular
tube that extends from the uterus to outside the body), as well as their supporting structures.
Significant changes occur in a woman's reproductive organs when she reaches menarche (pronounced me-NAR-key). Menarche is the age at which a woman begins to menstruate. (Menstruation is the monthly cycle in nonpregnant women during which the uterus sheds its lining when fertilization of an egg does not take place.) Other changes occur again during any pregnancy that occurs in her life. A third important period of change occurs during menopause, at which time a woman ceases menstruating. A primary goal of the gynecologist is to guide women through these changes in their lives and to ensure that they retain their health throughout each stage.
The gynecologist uses a variety of tests to determine the health of a woman's reproductive organs. One such test is known as the Pap test, named after the Greek American physician George Papanicolaou (1883–1962) who developed the test in the mid-twentieth century. The Pap test involves the removal, staining, and study of cells taken from the vagina and cervix. The test can be used to detect the early stages of uterine cancer.
In vitro fertilization: A process by which a woman's eggs are fertilized outside her body and then re-implanted back into it.
Menarche: The age at which a woman begins to menstruate.
Menopause: The period in a woman's life during which she ceases menstruating.
Menstruation: The monthly cycle in nonpregnant women during which the uterus sheds its lining when fertilization of an egg does not take place. It is often accompanied by a small discharge of blood.
Pap test: A test that can be used to detect the early stages of uterine cancer.
Gynecologists also can investigate the reasons that a woman is unable to become pregnant. Typical problems involve plugged fallopian tubes or a hormonal (chemical) imbalance that prevents an egg from becoming mature, releasing properly from the ovaries, or implanting onto the uterine wall. In each of these cases, steps can be taken to correct or bypass the problem so the woman can bear children.
Gynecology has advanced to the point that a physician can force the ovaries to produce eggs. These eggs can then be removed and fertilized in a dish and then implanted in the uterus. This method is known as in vitro fertilization because fertilization occurs within glass dishes ( vitro is Latin for "glass") rather than a living body. In addition, the science of gynecology continues to make advances against the diseases and disorders that may deny a woman the ability to have children.