What is an undescended testicle?
When a boy is developing in the womb, his testicles (testes) form in his abdomen. In the last few months of development, the testicles move down into the scrotum. An undescended testicle is one that hasn't moved down to sit fully within the scrotum at birth.
Around 2-4% of newborn boys have an undescended testicle. For some boys, the testicle might move down by itself within the first three months.
A testicle can sometimes become undescended at around 4-10 years of age. In this case, the testicle is in the scrotum at birth. As the boy grows, the cord attached to the testicle (the spermatic cord) doesn't grow at the same rate. This causes the testicle to be pulled up into the groin.
An undescended testicle can increase the risk of several health issues including twisting (torsion), hernia, reduced fertility and testicular cancer.
The medical name for an undescended testicle is cryptorchidism.
An undescended testicle is different from a retractile testicle. A retractile testicle is one that sits normally in the scrotum but pulls up when your son is cold, embarrassed or upset. It comes down again when your son is warm or has calmed down. Although retractile testicles are normal, it's a good idea to have your GP check it out.
Symptoms of an undescended testicle
An undescended testicle doesn't sit in the scrotum. It's usually in the groin or in the lower abdomen.
This condition doesn't cause any pain.
Every now and then when you're bathing your baby son or changing his nappy, check that you can see and feel both his testicles in his scrotum. Your GP will also check them during routine check-ups. When your child is older, you can encourage him to check for himself.
Does your child need to see a doctor about an undescended testicle?
If you think your son has an undescended testicle, you need to see your GP. Your GP might refer your son to a surgeon.
An ultrasound or other tests are rarely needed.
Treatment for an undescended testicle
If your son's testicle hasn't descended by the time he's three months old, he might need surgery to bring it down into the scrotum.
This surgery is called an orchidopexy and is usually done at 6-9 months of age. It prevents long-term damage to the testicles and reduces the risk of the other problems.
If your child develops an undescended testicle when he's older, he might also need surgery.