Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
What is an undescended testicle?
Testicles are part of the male
body. They make male hormones and sperm. Usually both testicles are inside the
scrotum. While boy babies are still growing inside the uterus, their testicles
are inside their abdomen. They usually move down into the scrotum just before
or just after birth. An undescended testicle is one that did not move down into
Undescended testicles are
common in boy babies. Up to 30 percent of boys born early and 5 percent of boys
born on time have at least one undescended testicle. If your newborn baby has an
undescended testicle, it will usually move down on its own in the first few
months of life. If this doesn't happen after 3 or 4 months, it may need to be
treated by a doctor.
How will I
know if my baby has an undescended testicle?
Your doctor can tell if your baby
has an undescended testicle by checking the baby's scrotum. If your doctor can't
feel the testicle inside the scrotum, it's called a "nonpalpable" testicle. A
nonpalpable testicle might be inside the abdomen, or it might be too small to
feel or not there at all. It's important to find out which one is the reason.
Unfortunately, an x-ray can't tell if a nonpalpable testicle is inside the
abdomen. Doctors usually have to do surgery to find out.
Why does an undescended testicle
have to be treated?
There are 2
reasons to treat an undescended testicle. First, undescended testicles may not
make sperm. Testicles are in the scrotum because the temperature there is cooler
than it is inside the body. A cooler temperature helps the testicles make sperm.
A man's ability to make sperm can be lost in early childhood if the testicle
doesn't drop down into the scrotum. A baby boy can start to lose the ability to
make sperm by 12 months of age. Getting the testicle down into the scrotum early
in life can help him have a better chance of having children when he grows up.
Second, an undescended testicle is
more likely to develop a tumor. Testicular cancer affects one of every 2,000 men
with an undescended testicle. This rate of testicular cancer is higher than the
rate in men whose testicles have dropped naturally. When the testicle is inside
the scrotum, a man can easily feel his testicles to check for a tumor, or he can
be checked by his doctor. This way, any tumor can be found early, when the
cancer is easier to cure.
How is an
undescended testicle treated?
Treatment for an undescended
testicle depends on where it is. Babies with a testicle that can be felt in the
groin (the area where your thigh meets your body) often get an operation called
orchiopexy (say: "or-key-oh-peck-see"). Babies who have this operation usually
go home the same day. The operation is done through a small cut in the groin. It
takes about 1 hour. Most babies get better very quickly.
Another treatment is a hormone called
hCG. Your doctor might give your child hCG in a shot. HCG helps the testicles
make male hormones. A higher level of male hormones might move the testicle down
into the scrotum. This treatment is best if the testicle is already very close
to the scrotum.
If you are an adult
with an undescended testicle, moving the testicle to the scrotum probably won't
improve your ability to make sperm. So, in adult men an undescended testicle is
usually just taken out. Doctors often don't do anything about an undescended
testicle in men over 40. If you are an older man with an undescended testicle,
your doctor can help you decide what to do.