What is an undescended testicle?

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Undescended testicles—a condition also called cryptorchidism—is fairly common. Before a baby boy is born, the testicles form in the child’s abdomen. During the third trimester, the testicles travel from the abdomen, down the groin and into the scrotum (the sack of skin beneath the penis). An undescended testicle is a testicle that doesn’t complete the descent process. The testicle may be located anywhere from the abdomen to the groin and may affect one or both testicles.

  • Undescended testicles, or cryptorchidism, is normally a painless condition.
  • The condition is congenital (or present at birth).
  • 1-2% of male infants are affected. Premature babies are affected by undescended testicles at a higher rate.
  • The more premature your baby is, the higher the chance of having an undescended testicle.
  • In some cases—about 20 percent of affected boys, an undescended testicle will descend (or “drop”) on its own within the child’s first six months of life. Those that don’t will require surgery.
  • Parents of baby boys who’ve been diagnosed with undescended testicles often worry, “Will my son be able to have children of his own?” Fortunately, for boys with one undescended testicle, the answer is, “yes” in most cases.

Long-term issues are rare but important to be aware of:

  • Undescended testicles may increase the risk of infertility, especially if both testicles are affected. However, boys who have one undescended testicle tend to father children at the same rate as those who are not affected by the condition at all.
  • Boys who have two undescended testicles—a much lower percentage of patients, do have a significantly lower fertility rate.
  • A child with undescended testicles is slightly more prone to develop testicular cancer, even after corrective surgery. However, surgery performed before puberty may reduce the risk of developing cancer. Parents should know that cases of cancer related to undescended testicles are rare.
  • Having the surgery is important in that the testicle is located where a young man can palpate a mass if it should develop.

Is surgery always required to treat undescended testicles?

Some undescended testicles will eventually move into their proper position without any sort of treatment within the first six months of a baby’s life; those that do not will need to be moved surgically.

Boston Children's Hospital was one of the nation’s first hospital to use laparoscopy—a minimally invasive surgical procedure that involves looking into the abdomen through tiny incisions and utilizing miniaturized, highly sensitive operating tools, cameras and telescopes. Today, we perform more pediatric laparoscopic procedures than any other center in New England.

About laparoscopy:

  • Our physicians also use laparoscopy to move intra-abdominal testes into the scrotum. This allows for the optimal positioning of the testes in the scrotum.
  • Most importantly, our clinicians are well practiced in both laparoscopy and the treatment of undescended testicles in general. We treat three to four kids with the condition each week. 
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