EFFECTS OF AGING ON THE REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
Aging affects the reproductive system in both men and women in several ways. Sexual activity is often maintained in men and women as they age, but the frequency of sexual intercourse usu-ally decreases gradually.
In men, benign prostatic enlargement is common after 50 years of age. A major consequence of prostatic enlargement is blockage of the prostatic urethra. Although benign pros-tatic enlargement is not preventable, treatments are available to reverse its negative effects. The frequency of prostate cancer also increases as men age and is a significant cause of death in men. In addition, the tendency for erectile dysfunction increases as men age. However, less than 15% of men age 60 or under experience abnormal erectile dysfunction. Keeping physically healthy can minimize some factors leading to abnormal erectile dysfunction, and medical treatments are available.
In women, the most significant age-related change is meno-pause. By age 50, the amount of estrogen and progesterone produced by the ovaries has decreased. The uterus decreases in size, and the endometrium decreases in thickness. The times between menses become irregular and longer until menstruation stops. The vaginal wall becomes thinner and less elastic, and there is less lubricant in the vagina, resulting in an increased tendency for vaginal yeast infections. However, wearing cotton underwear and loose clothing reduces this possibility. In the event of infections, very effective medical treatments are available.
Approximately 10% of all women will develop breast cancer. The incidence of breast cancer is greatest between 45 and 65 years of age and is greater for women who have a family history of breast cancer. The single most important measure to guard against death from breast cancer is early detection through breast self-exams and yearly mammograms after age 40. The incidences of uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and cervical cancer all increase between 50 and 65 years of age. Annual medical checkups, including Pap smears for cervical cancer, are important in order to detect cancer at early stages, when it can be easily treated.