Undescended testicle or testis (also called cryptorchidism) is a disorder in which one or both testicles don’t move into the scrotum before birth. Shortly before birth, the testicles usually move through a space from the abdomen (belly) down into the scrotum. When a testicle doesn’t drop down, it’s undescended.
This condition occurs in about 3% of male babies who are born at term and about 30% of premature babies. In fact, almost 100% of all boys who weigh less than 2 pounds at birth will have undescended testis.
The reasons for undescended testicles aren’t clear. Perhaps not enough hormones from the mother or from developing testicles were present to cause normal growth. Some blockage may have prevented descent. Hormones taken during pregnancy may also have affected the testicles.
The testicle cannot be seen or felt in its normal location of the scrotum. Usually the baby has no other symptoms.
The health care provider usually finds undescended testicles during a newborn’s first physical examination. In about 80% of cases, the health care provider can feel them further up in the inguinal canal (a passage in the lower abdominal wall).
If the health care provider cannot feel them in the inguinal canal, an ultrasound examination may be done. This test uses sound waves to look inside the body.
The health care provider may order other tests if the ultrasound doesn’t show the testicles. Computed tomography (CT) can make images of the inside of the body more clearly. Sometimes an operation called laparoscopy needs to be done. In laparoscopy, the doctor uses a small, flexible, lighted tube (laparoscope) to see into the abdomen.
If the testicles can be felt up in the inguinal canal, they often descend on their own, without any treatment, usually by the baby’s first birthday. If they haven’t moved down on their own by that time, some treatment will be needed. Surgery, called orchiopexy, will be done to move the testicles into the scrotum.
Undescended testicles that aren’t corrected may cause fertility problems, such as low sperm counts, later in life. Men who had an undescended testicle, either fixed by surgery or not, have a greater risk of getting testicular cancer.
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