The ovaries are two small, thumb-sized organs situated in the female pelvic area. They flank the uterus and house the female oocytes, or reproductive cells we colloquially call eggs.
But what is the role of the ovaries in the endocrine system, which is the team of hormone-producing glands in our bodies?
At first, all eggs are kept inside a single layer of supportive cells called a follicle. With time, these eggs start maturing until one is released from the ovary with every menstrual cycle; as they mature, follicle cells quickly divide and follicle itself becomes bigger and bigger. As this occurs, many follicles become unable to function, while one dominates during every menstrual cycle. It is this dominant egg that is released during ovulation. The follicles make a hormone known as oestrogen as they develop.
The now-empty follicle left in the ovary post-ovulation is known as corpus luteum; this structure releases the hormones oestrogen (in a lower amount) and progesterone (in a higher amount). These hormones, then, prep the uterine lining for a possible pregnancy–in case the recently released egg gets fertilized. During a menstrual cycle, oestrogen is produced in higher amounts in the first half–before ovulation–and progesterone is produced in higher amounts in the second half, once the corpus luteum has developed.
In the event that the released egg is not fertilized, the corpus luteum breaks down, halting the secretion of oestrogen and progesterone. Now that these hormones are no longer present, the womb’s lining begins to break down and is removed from the body via menstruation; afterwards, another cycle starts once more.
If the released egg is fertilized, the corpus luteum remains functional and continues secreting oestrogen and progesterone; this allows the embryo to implant in the womb’s lining and form a placenta. From here, a fetus begins to develop.
Menopause is used to refer to the end of a woman’s reproductive years, after her final menstrual cycle; it’s brought on by the loss of all follicles in the ovaries that contain eggs. Once this occurs, the ovaries no longer secret oestrogen and progesterone, causing menstruation to come to a halt.
All of the Ezra screening plans take a look at the ovaries for various cancerous and precancerous states, as well as various other conditions such as polycystic ovaries. You can learn more about our screening options by following this link.