A Woman without Uterus or Ovaries

Is it possible for a female to have no uterus or ovaries? If so, what causes this condition, and how is it that she is able to have normal breasts and other feminine features? S.

Many conditions may result in the situation you report. The most likely is one called androgen insensitivity syndrome, in which the body is genetically programmed to be male, but something happens to prevent that from happening properly.

In this condition, the gonads (the organs that would become either ovaries or testicles) are present and produce high levels of the male hormone testosterone. This would normally trigger male development, but the body cells are unable to respond to the male hormones. Without a signal to trigger the development of male characteristics, the body develops into a female form. Meanwhile, the gonads -- which are still operating as though the body is male -- also produce a substance called Mullerian inhibiting factor that blocks formation of a uterus.

As the uterus and upper vagina do not form normally in this case, the gonads "get confused." Instead of becoming ovaries, they develop into abnormal testicles. With careful searching, these abnormal gonads can often be found in the abdomen.

Women with this condition are generally taller than their peers and have less body hair. This condition is diagnosed by measuring testosterone levels and checking chromosomes for the presence of a 46XY (male) chromosomal pattern.