Undescended testes (cryptorchidism) is when one or both of the male testes have not passed down into the scrotal sac. This is a condition seen in some newborn baby boys. Most cases involve only one teste. About 1 in 10 cases involve both testes.
Causes of Undescended Testes
Undescended testes are more often seen in babies who are born early (preterm babies). This is because the testes don’t descend from the belly into the scrotal sac until month 7 of a baby’s growth in the uterus. Other causes may include hormone problems or spina bifida.
It may be caused by a reflex that causes a testicle to move up and down from the scrotum back into the groin (retractile testes). In some cases, the testes are missing. In rare cases, a boy who has inguinal hernia repair may develop undescended testes.
Undescended testes occur in about 3 in 100 to 1 in 20 male babies. A baby is more at risk for undescended testes if he:
- Is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy (preterm)
- Has a family member with the condition
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. The most common sign is when a healthcare provider can’t feel the testes during an exam.
The symptoms of undescended testes can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she may also ask about your family’s health history. Your child's provider will examine your child's scrotum for testes at every well-child check. In some cases, imaging tests such as ultrasound or MRI are needed to find the testicles within the pelvis.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. In many cases, the testes descend on their own into the scrotum by 3 months of age. In most cases, the testes descend by age 6 months without any treatment.
In other cases, treatment may be needed. This may include:
- Surgery. The undescended testicle may be moved into the scrotal sac with surgery. This surgery is called orchiopexy. It’s usually done between 6 and 18 months of age, and works for most children.
- Hormone therapy. Certain hormones may stimulate the body to make testosterone. This helps the testes descend into the scrotal sac. This treatment is only used in some cases. Talk with your child’s healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.
Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about what kind of treatment is advised for your child.
If testes don’t descend, this can cause problems such as:
- Infertility. This is most common when both testes don’t descend.
- Risk for testicular cancer. This risk increases greatly by age 30 or 40. Men with undescended tests will need to do monthly testicular self-exams.
- Inguinal hernia. This is a weakened area in the lower belly wall or inguinal canal where intestines may push through.
- Testicular torsion. This is a painful twisting of the testes that can decrease blood supply to the testes.
- Emotional stress. An empty scrotum can cause emotional upset to boys and men.
When to Call a Healthcare Provider
Call the healthcare provider if your baby has no sign of testes in his scrotal sac.
- Undescended testes is when one or both of the male testes have not passed down into the scrotal sac. This is a condition seen in some newborn baby boys.
- A baby is more at risk for undescended testes if he is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy (preterm), or has a family member with the condition.
- In many cases, the testes descend on their own into the scrotum by 3 months of age. In most cases, the testes descend by age 6 months without any treatment.
- In other cases, surgery or hormone therapy may be needed.
- If testes don’t descend, this can cause problems such as infertility, higher risk of testicular cancer, and other problems.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.