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An undescended testicle, or cryptorchidism, refers to a testicle that has not moved or descended into the proper position before the delivery of a male baby. Either one, or both testicles can be affected and the condition is more prevalent among boys who are born prematurely. It is considered a rarity for both of the testicles to be undescended. Generally, for most babies born with this condition, the problem often corrects itself after a few months, however, undescended testicle repair surgery may be necessary.
Typically, the testicles develop in the abdominal area during fetal growth. During the late months of development, the testicles slowly leave the abdominal area and progress through a passageway located in the groin, and then descend in the baby's scrotum. When an undescended testicle is present, it means that this process has been delayed or stopped in one of the stages of development, therefore the testicle will not be evident in the scrotum, where it would be expected to be.
Generally, when the baby is examined after birth, this condition is usually diagnosed. This is an appropriate time to ask the physician about the treatment plan, and how often the child would need follow-up examinations. Usually, if the testicle has not descended by age four months, chances are, further treatment may be indicated. Treating an undescended testicle while the child is still an infant can lower potential complications later in his life, such as testicular cancer and infertility.
Exact causes for undescended testicles are not known, however, the combination of maternal health, environmental factors and genetics may play a role by disrupting physical changes and hormones. In addition, nerve activity and physical changes may influence the way that the testicles develop. There are some risk factors that are understood to contribute to this condition, however. These include premature birth and low birth weight. Other possible causes include maternal alcohol consumption and maternal diabetes.
Although an undescended testicle usually takes an uneventful course, complications can develop. These include low sperm counts, impaired fertility, and testicular torsion. In addition, men who have had this condition, have an increased risk of cancer of the testicle later in life. Sometimes, inguinal hernias can develop in conjunction with an undescended testicle, but these can be effectively treated with minimally invasive surgical repair procedures.
Undescended testicle treatment may include surgery that involves the manipulation of the affected testicle back into the scrotal area and suturing it back into place. This minimally invasive procedure generally only requires small incisions and typically is performed laparoscopically. Recovery time is also minimal, and the procedure is generally performed in an outpatient setting. Postoperatively, the surgeon will usually monitor the baby's condition with ultrasound, physical exam, and hormonal testing.