An undescended testicle is a testicle that has failed to move into its proper position in the scrotum. Testicles form in the abdomen during fetal development. During the last few months of fetal development, the testicles move down from the abdomen through a passageway into the scrotum. In cases where the process is stopped or postponed, an undescended testicle may occur.
Usually just one testicle is affected, however there are cases where both testicles are undescended.
An undescended testicle is most common among infants who are born prematurely. Most of the time, the undescended testicle will move into its proper position on its own during the first 9 months of an infant’s life.
In cases where the undescended testicle doesn’t correct itself, a treatment option such as surgery is required to reposition the testicle into the scrotum.
The main sign of an undescended testicle is not being able to see or feel the testicle that is expected to be in the scrotum.
The exact cause of an undescended testicle remains unknown. Researchers believe that a combination of genetics, the overall health of the mother during pregnancy and other environmental factors might trigger the disruption of hormones and bring about physical changes and nerve activity that affect the development of the testicles.
Factors that can increase the risk of an undescended testicle in an infant include:
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Family history of undescended testicle
- Certain medical conditions such as Down syndrome or an abdominal wall defect
- Excessive alcohol consumption or smoking by the mother during pregnancy
- Obesity of the mother during pregnancy
- Diabetes in the mother
- Parents' exposure to some pesticides
Possible complications that can arise from an undescended testicle include the following:
- Testicular cancer: Cancer that begins in the cells in the testicle that produce immature sperm.
- Testicular torsion: A medical condition in which the spermatic cord, which contains blood vessels, nerves and the tube that carries semen from the testicle to the penis, gets twisted.
- Inguinal hernia: A medical condition in which soft tissue bulges through a weak point in the abdominal muscles.
- Testicular trauma: A forceful injury to the testicle.
- Poor sperm quality: A low sperm count that can cause infertility.
- Infertility: The inability to reproduce by natural means.
The main focus of treatment for an undescended testicle is to reposition it into the scrotum.
Treatment options for an undescended testicle include the following:
- Orchiopexy: A surgical procedure designed to maneuver the testicle into the scrotum and stitch it into place.
- A surgical procedure that involves the removal of the testicular tissue in cases where the testicle may be poorly developed abnormal or dead tissue.
- A surgical procedure that involves the repair of the hernia in cases where the undescended testicle is associated with inguinal hernia.
- Hormone treatment: A method that involves the injection of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a certain hormone that tries to bring the testicle into the scrotum. This treatment is usually not recommended because it is much less effective than surgery.
- Saline testicular prostheses: A surgical procedure that involves the implantation of cosmic devices used to mimic testicles and give the scrotum a normal appearance.
Consulting with a doctor about the right treatment option and discussing further hormone treatments is recommended in order to avoid and prevent further complications, such as testicular cancer or infertility.