The ovaries are a pair of ovum-producing female reproductive organs that are about 1.5 inches long and shaped like an almond nut. They are located in the pelvic area, one on each lateral wall of the uterus, close to the ends of the fallopian tubes.
The ovaries play two important roles in the reproductive system: first, they produce eggs (oocytes), which are released into the fallopian tubes where they can be fertilized by a sperm. Second, they produce female sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which are both important in the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy.
During ovulation, which occurs once in a menstrual cycle, one of the ovaries releases an egg, (ovum), which leads to pregnancy if the egg is successfully fertilized by a sperm. If left unfertilized, the ovum breaks apart and is removed during menstruation.
The ovaries are made up of three different types of cells namely, epithelial cells, which covers the outer surface of the ovary; germ cells, which are found inside the ovary that develop into eggs; and stromal cells, which forms connective or supportive tissues of the ovary.
Common Ovarian Problems/Conditions
Ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that grows in the ovary. These are often benign and rarely cancerous in women less than 50 years of age. Some women develop PCOS where many small cysts form in the ovary. Although also harmless, this condition can lead to hormonal imbalances resulting in numerous side effects including irregular periods, weight gain, extra body hair, acne, insulin problems, and even infertility.
Premature ovarian failure or primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) - This condition happens when the ovaries stop producing egg cells before a woman turns 40 years old. Women with POI often have irregular periods and have trouble getting pregnant.
Ovarian cancer - A type of cancer that usually starts in the uterus. Cancer of the ovary is often difficult to detect early, and may have mild or no symptoms until it reaches the advanced stage.
Ovarian torsion - This occurs when the ovaries become twisted. It is considered a medical emergency as delayed treatment can result in the loss of an ovary.
Common Ovary Procedures/Surgeries
Laparoscopic or laparotomic surgery for ovarian cyst - Ovarian cysts are usually treated and removed through minimally invasive laparoscopic or laparotomic surgery. It involves creating small incisions in the abdomen where the laparoscope and other tiny surgical instruments are inserted to remove the cyst. If cancer is suspected, the procedure is followed by a biopsy where the removed cyst is further analyzed in a laboratory.
Oophorectomy - This is a surgical procedure that removes one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) ovaries. This is usually performed as treatment for tubo-ovarian abscess, ovarian cancer, and endometriosis. Oophorectomy may be done alone or in conjunction with salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes) or hysterectomy (complete removal of the uterus).
Prophylactic ovary removal - This surgery is performed to remove the ovaries in women who have a high risk of ovarian and breast cancer. The procedure can be recommended for those who tested positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations and who have first-degree relatives who had breast and/or ovarian cancer.