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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices

Undescended Testicle: Cause, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is an undescended testicle?

This is when one of your child's testicles does not complete its normal passage from within the abdomen to the scrotum. Generally it is one testicle that is affected - on rare occasions, both may be affected. The testicles develop inside the body and usually drop into the scrotum just before birth or in the first few months of a boy's life. Both testicles should have dropped into the scrotum by the time your child is one year old. In some children, the testicles may be in the scrotum for much of the time but cannot be felt there because they naturally rise back into the body through fear or cold temperatures. If this is the case, there is no cause for concern. However if a testicle is permanently within the abdomen, treatment will be needed. An undescended testicle rarely, if ever, descends of its own accord. The medical term for an undescended testicle is cryptorchidism

What causes it?

The two most common causes are either that the canal through which the testicles descend is blocked, or a band of tissue attaches the testicle to the abdominal wall which stops it descending.

On rare occasions, the testicle does not descend due to other problems with the testicles themselves or with the male hormones.

How common is it?

This condition is more common in premature babies. Overall around one in 20 male babies is born with an undescended testicle and in about one in 70 cases, the testicle remain undescended. There is no known cause of the condition.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child's doctor will need to determine whether the testicles are truly undescended or whether they have slid back into the body temporarily. You can usually find this out by putting your child in a warm bath and checking whether you can feel both testicles.

How is it treated?

The condition is usually treated with a small operation called an orchidopexy. Basically this involves making a small cut above the penis. The testicle is moved down into the scrotum and the gap closed again. This will prevent the testicle moving back up into your child's abdomen. Surgery within the first few years of life gives the testicle the best chance of developing normally.

Why Does It Have to Be Treated?
Treatment is necessary for several reasons:

  • The higher temperature of the body may inhibit the normal¬†production of sperm in the undescended testicle.
  • The undescended testicle is more susceptible to forming a tumor.
  • The undescended testicle is more vulnerable to injury.
  • An asymmetrical or empty scrotum may cause worry and embarrassment.

Are there any risks with this operation?

Every anesthetic carries a risk of complications, but this is very small. Your child's anesthetist is an experienced doctor who is trained to deal with any complications. All surgery carries a small risk of infection or bleeding. After the operation there will be some tenderness in the groin area. Occasionally there may also be some bruising. There is also a slight risk that the testicle may be damaged during surgery. 

What happens after the operation?

Your child may suffer some discomfort around the groin area. You can give him some liquid acetaminophen or ibuprofen on the advice of your child's doctor.

While the area is sore, your child should wear loose clothing. He should not be too active for about two weeks until the scrotum is less painful and any swelling has reduced. For one month after the operation, your child should not ride a bicycle or a similar toy. The stitches used during the surgery will dissolve on their own so there is no need to take your child to the doctor to have them removed. Your child's surgeon will ask to see him as an outpatient four to six weeks after the operation to assess the testicle.

posted 08-12-04


As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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