GYN Glossary

Definitions, meanings, functiions, and related diseases, of just some of the gynaecological words you will see used on this website…

Latin for “neck”. The cervix is the opening, or neck,  of the uterus (womb) – which joins onto the vagina. Is visible with medical equipment, and is the part of the female reproductive organs involved in a common experience for women – the Pap smear.

A purely sexual organ found only in female mammals. A small mass of wonderfully complex, erectile tissue, about the size of a pea, situated at the top of the vulva, above the urethra (bladder orifice).

The term used to describe pain with sexual intercourse and usually associated with gynaecological conditions such as vulvodynia or vulval vestibilitis syndrome.

fallopian tubes
From the Greek word salpinx meaning “trumpet”, and are two narrow tubes leading from each ovary, to the uterus, in female mammals. In human females these tubes are about 7 – 14cm long, and are lined with cilia. Conception takes place in the fallopian tubes, and the cilia (lining) pushes the fertilised ovum along the fallopian tube to the uterus. Also, called oviducts, uterine tubes, and salpinges. Surgical removal of a fallopian tube is called a salpingectomy.

gynaecologic cancer
Cancer of the female reproductive organs, including the cervix, endometrium, fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, vulva and vagina.

gynaecological oncologist
A consultant specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, who is competent in the comprehensive management of patients with gynaecological cancer. This specialist has obtained the sub-specialist qualification of “Certification in Gynaecologic Oncology”, and, in Australia, must be recertified every three years.

A consultant specialist in the area of the female reproductive system.

human papilloma virus (HPV)
A very common  infection caused by the human papilloma virus, characterised by a soft wart-like growth on the genitalia (eg penis, vulva). Four out of five sexually active people will have HPV, at some time in their lives. Almost always sexually transmitted, and can cause genital warts, abnormal Pap smears, and, in rare cases, cervical cancer in women.

Surgical removal of the uterus (womb), performed by a surgeon, usually a gynaecologist, in an operating theatre, in a hospital. It may be a complete, or partial hysterectomy, and can be performed in a variety of ways – abdominal, vaginal, or with laparoscopic instruments.  The modern surgeon prefers the laparoscopoic approach as it is deemed safer, and has a quicker recovery time. Either way, the women will need to spend between 3 – 5 days in hospital, with a further recovery time at home.

The term used to describe a chronic painful condition which has no known cause.

A condition in which excess fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling. It may occur in the arm, or leg, after lymph vessels, or lymph nodes, in the underarm or groin are removed (usually to treat cancer) or treated with radiation.

menopause, menopausal
The time in a woman’s life when she ceases to be able to reproduce. Her ovaries literally run out of ova (eggs), and her reproductive organs undergo certain changes as a result of hormonal changes, due to the lack of eostrogen from her non-functioning ovaries. This is the time when menstrual periods eventually stop, and a women is said to be post menopausal when she has not had a period for 12 months. The average age for a western woman to complete her menopause is approximately 51 years, although can be as late as 55 years. Sometimes called “the change” or “the change of life”.

A pair of small, oval shaped, ovum, or egg producing reproductive organs in women, situated on either side of the uterus (womb). Each ovary is situated close to a fallopian tube, which is, in turn, attached to the uterus. One, or the other, ovary releases an ova (egg) each month into the fallopian tube, where it may be fertilised by sperm (introduced during sexual intercourse).

pap smear – also called pap test, smear test, cervical smear.
A screening test used to detect the presence of abnormal, and possibly pre-cancerous, cells on the cervix. Performed by a doctor, using a speculum to hold the vagina open, a swab is used to take a gentle scraping of the cells from the outer opening of the cervix. This sample of cells is then sent for analysis.

Peri means “around” or “about”. The time in a woman’s life when she is considered close to menopause, and can be anytime up to 10 years prior to the considered average age for menopause which is approximately 51/52 years for western women.

A medical tool used by a doctor for the examination of body cavities. Most women are very familiar with the use of a speculum which is usually used during a gynaecological examination. It is inserted into the vagina, allowing the doctor to examine the vagina and cervix.

Thrush is a common infection caused by a yeast called candida albicans, which lives, in small numbers, in areas of the body like the bowel, mouth, and vagina. Thrush develops when candida numbers grow excessively. Thrush is commonly known as a yeast infection, and also as candidiasis.

The tube connecting the urinary bladder to the outside of the body, and facilitates the expulsion of urine. In women the urethra is between 3 – 5 cm long, and the opening, or oriface, is found within the vulva situated between the clitoris and the vaginal opening.

urinary bladder
The hollow, muscular, flexible organ common to all mammals. Situated in the pelvic floor, it collects urine from the kidneys and expels it through the urethra.

A hollow, muscular, major reproductive organ shaped like an “upside down pear” and is found in the pelvic cavity of all female mammals. In the non-pregnant human female, is about 2 centimetres in diameter, and is pear shaped. Is lined with the endometruim which is eliminated and renewed in a monthly menstrual cycle. During reproductive years a fertilised ova (egg) will travel down the fallopian tube, and embed itself in the endometruim (lining of the uterus), and a pregnancy may result. The uterus opens into the vagina below, via the ccervix (also part of the uterus), and on each side to the fallopian tubes.

Latin meaning – “sheath” or “scabbard”. Is the muscular organ connecting the cervix (opening to the uterus) with the outside of the body. Is the female organ of sexual intercourse, and the birth canal. The vaginal opening is found within the female vulva. Often, incorrectly, used to describe the vulva and the female genitals in general. The vagina is a specific “internal” organ, while the vulva is an “external” part of the female genitals.

A Latin word for the external genitalia of the human female. It consists mainly of the mons pubis (pubic mound), the clitoris, the clitoral hood, the uretha (urinary opening),  the labia majora, the labia minora, the bulb of the vestibule, the vestibule of the vagina, the cleft of venus, greater and lesser vestibular glands, the hymen, the vaginal orifice, and various glands and minor structures.

Surgical exision of a part of the vulva, usually due to cancer. Extent of surgery depends on the spread of the cancer involved. Radical vulvectomy includes removal of the lymph nodes as well as the affected vulval tissue. Considered a life threatening cancer, and often not diagnosed in the early stages.  Surgery can cause disfigurement and multilation of the external genitalia, and is very traumatic.

This term means pain in the vulva, and is a condition many women will have some time in their life. However, for some women this condition can be chronic (ie lasting six months or more), and is life altering. It is characterised by a burning, stinging, irritating, rawness in the genitalia. Often hard to treat, but new treatments offer much hope.


The following websites were consulted to compile the meanings of some of the above terms. 

The Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation


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