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23.4: Uterus and Cervix

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    The uterus is the muscular organ that nourishes and supports the growing embryo (see Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). Its average size is approximately 5 cm wide by 7 cm long (approximately 2 in by 3 in) when a female is not pregnant. It has three sections. The portion of the uterus superior to the opening of the uterine tubes is called the fundus. The middle section of the uterus is called the body of uterus (or corpus). The cervix is the narrow inferior portion of the uterus that projects into the vagina. The cervix produces mucus secretions that become thin and stringy under the influence of high systemic plasma estrogen concentrations, and these secretions can facilitate sperm movement through the reproductive tract.

    This diagram shows the uterus and ovaries in the center. To the left is a micrograph showing the ultrastructure of the ovaries and to the right is a micrograph showing the ultrastructure of the uterus.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Ovaries, Uterine Tubes, and Uterus This anterior view shows the relationship of the ovaries, uterine tubes (oviducts), and uterus. Sperm enter through the vagina, and fertilization of an ovulated oocyte usually occurs in the distal uterine tube. From left to right, LM × 400, LM × 20. (Micrographs provided by the Regents of University of Michigan Medical School © 2012) (CC-BY-4.0, OpenStax, Human Anatomy)

    The Breasts

    Whereas the breasts are located far from the other female reproductive organs, they are considered accessory organs of the female reproductive system. The function of the breasts is to supply milk to an infant in a process called lactation. The external features of the breast include a nipple surrounded by a pigmented areola (Figure 23.4), whose coloration may deepen during pregnancy. The areola is typically circular and can vary in size from 25 to 100 mm in diameter. The areolar region is characterized by small, raised areolar glands that secrete lubricating fluid during lactation to protect the nipple from chafing. When a baby nurses, or draws milk from the breast, the entire areolar region is taken into the mouth.

    Breast milk is produced by the mammary glands, which are modified sweat glands. The milk itself exits the breast through the nipple via 15 to 20 lactiferous ducts that open on the surface of the nipple. These lactiferous ducts each extend to a lactiferous sinus that connects to a glandular lobe within the breast itself that contains groups of milk-secreting cells in clusters called alveoli (see Figure 23.4). The clusters can change in size depending on the amount of milk in the alveolar lumen. Once milk is made in the alveoli, stimulated myoepithelial cells that surround the alveoli contract to push the milk to the lactiferous sinuses. From here, the baby can draw milk through the lactiferous ducts by suckling. The lobes themselves are surrounded by fat tissue, which determines the size of the breast; breast size differs between individuals and does not affect the amount of milk produced. Supporting the breasts are multiple bands of connective tissue called suspensory ligaments that connect the breast tissue to the dermis of the overlying skin.

    This figure shows the anatomy of the breast. The left panel shows the front view and the right panel shows the side view. The main parts are labeled.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Anatomy of the Breast During lactation, milk moves from the alveoli through the lactiferous ducts to the nipple. (CC-BY-4.0, OpenStax, Human Anatomy)


    This page titled 23.4: Uterus and Cervix is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by OpenStax.

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