Undescended Testicles Cryptorchidism

By |2015-07-24T17:28:25+00:00July 24th, 2015|Categories: Causes & Conditions, Reproductive Disorders|Tags: , , , |8 Comments

<< Topics | Causes & Conditions | Reproductive Disorders

Abnormal testicular descent is fairly common (30% among premature babies and 1-4% of full term babies). It a major risk factor for infertility later in life. If you are having trouble conceiving, it might be worth poking into your past a little bit to see whether or not you had any early issues.

During fetal development, male gonads descend from their starting point on the posterior abdominal wall (the back of the inside of your abdomen), moving near the kidneys, down the abdomen, and through the inguinal canal into the scrotum. Cryptorchidism, or a testicle that has not yet descended into the scrotum at birth, is one of the most common congenital conditions in the pediatric population. It’s most common in pre-term births (30%) and comparatively not as common in full-term births (1-4%). The testicle may descend on its own, or medical intervention may be required if it does not. Cryptorchidism is the most common factor in the cause of adult azoospermia.

As an adult man, you may or may not be aware of having an “empty scrotum” when you were born. Either way, it may be affecting your fertility now. Cryptorchidism, especially if not treated properly, frequently results in impaired germ cell maturation, which results in infertility as an adult. If you are having difficulty conceiving, it might be worth an awkward conversation with your mom to find out if you were one of the male babies born before his testicle descended.

Also, men born with an undescended testicle have an increased risk of testicular cancer later in life, in both testicles, but even more so if the undescended testicle never descended, in part because it’s harder to examine the testicle and therefore detect malignant lesions. An untreated, undescended testicle can also increase the risk of testicular torsion (ow! Seriously, no one wants this. Do not ask.).

What to ask yer mom

If you were born with an undescended testicle, both timing and intervention matter.

  • Did the testicle descend at all?
  • If so, did it descend on its own?
  • When (in months)?
  • If it needed help, when was intervention performed?

Six months is about when the doctors should stop waiting and start prodding, because after this point a testicle is unlikely to descend on its own—and the marginal improvements to fertility are significant.

Treatment Options

In most cases the testicle descends on its own (whew!).

If not, first-line treatment is hormone injections (human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG),gonadotropin (LH)-releasing hormone (GnRH, LHRH), testosterone, or a combination of therapies) to try to coax the testicle into the scrotum. These therapies have limited (less than 25%) and predetermined success rates, as effectiveness depends on the position of the testis at the outset of treatment. A more effective (greater than 80%) but more invasive approach is orchiopexy—surgery to move the testicle into the scrotum. However the testicle comes down, just bringing it into the scrotum can increase sperm production and improve fertility.

Special Circumstances

As in all things, there are complications and special circumstances worth mentioning.

Double trouble

Although it’s less common, sometimes neither testicle is descended at birth. If it’s just oneunilateral cryptorchidism, the incidence of azoospermia is 13%. If it’s both, or bilateral cryptorchidism, this figure goes up to a whopping 89% of men. This is actually great news, because it means that a descended testicle can pick up some of the slack for an undescended testicle. Take heart, unis!

The Case of the Missing Testicle

Sometimes surgery reveals that there is no testicle at all. This is a different congenital condition altogether: vanished or absent testis.

Other conditions that should be ruled out, preferably before treatment, are retractile testes (the doctor cannot find the small testicles due to a muscle reflex that retracts them; the testicles will descend and grow at puberty, and surgery is not needed) and ectopic testis (a testicle that wanders off and ends up in a different part of the body than the scrotum).

It’s not always easy to tell. About 80% of undescended testicles are “palpable” (can be felt in the abdominal wall through the scrotum), with the other 20% “non-palpable.” Most that are palpable are located along the inguino-scrotal region; in other words, it had almost reached the scrotum before birth. Non-palpable undescended testicles may be found in the abdomen, just before or after reaching the inguinal canal. Boys born with abdominal testes are more likely to have ductal abnormalities and testicular maldevelopment.

The testicle that never descended

If your undescended testicle is discovered later in life, your doctor may recommend removal. If they don’t descend, they don’t work too well. And we already covered the cancer risk.


Sara SDx

Sara SDx

Editor of Don't Cook your Balls, Co-Founder of TrakFertility.com, Health Coach and Men's Health Advocate. Passionate about sperm, men's health and helping people build their families.

8 Comments

  1. […] Fahrenheit. Body temperature fluctuates around 98.6 degrees. As medicine has seen in the case of undecended testicles, the testis won’t produce sperm if kept at body temperature. Nature’s response, for […]

  2. […] year of life (usually during the first 3 months), however sometimes surgery is required. When the testicles don’t descend, fertility is at risk. This is due to keeping the testicle in the body longer, which overheats the […]

  3. hans March 25, 2017 at 11:06 am

    What is the chance to having baby for 40 years old man with bilateral cryptorchidism? Is still any chance for him to have baby after some medical treatment? If so, what kind of treatment he should take?

    • Sara SDx
      Sara SDx April 19, 2017 at 3:24 pm

      Men with bilateral cryptorchidism are at high risk for infertility but the best first step is to get a semen analysis and a blood test to check hormone levels. Those two things would tell you what the options are.

  4. […] the presence of a varicocele (varicose veins in the scrotum), past illnesses or infections, maldescent of testicles during childhood, prior surgeries in the groin (such as hernia repair), hormone imbalances and genetic disorders. […]

  5. MichaelDaf October 15, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Undescended testicle repair is done on an outpatient basis. This means the patient is not admitted to the hospital or kept overnight. Your child should not be given anything to eat or drink after midnight on the day of the surgery. On the morning of the surgery, you will bring the child to the hospital or day surgery center.

  6. Виктор September 1, 2015 at 9:13 am

    The more premature your baby is, the higher the chance of having an undescended testicle.

    • Sara SDx
      Sara SDx September 1, 2015 at 2:01 pm

      Premature babies do have higher risks of undescended testicles. I should update the article to add more details about that.

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