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Undescended testicles (testes)

Illustration showing one descended testicle and one undescended in a babyIn male babies, the testicles form up in the tummy before birth. Towards the end of the pregnancy the baby's testicles usually move down into the scrotum. But in some babies, one or both of the testicles do not move down. This is known as undescended testes (cryptorchidism).

The testicle is usually stuck in the canal that leads from the tummy to the scrotum (inguinal canal), though it can sometimes still be up in the tummy.

A cause isn't usually found for this but rarely, it's due to a hormone or genetic disorder. It's more common in premature babies because there has not been time for the testicles to move down.

If left untreated, undescended testes can lead to a reduced chance of being able to father a baby as the testicles need the cooler temperature of the scrotum to make sperm. An undescended testicle also has a small increased risk of developing testicular cancer.

Symptoms of undescended testicles

Having an undescended testicle doesn't cause any symptoms for your baby. But you may notice one or both of their testicles aren't in their scrotum. Your midwife or general practice team will check if they can feel the testicles in the scrotum at birth and at the six-week check.

In some babies, although their testicles have come down into their scrotum, at times they move back up so cannot always be felt. This is more likely to happen if your baby is cold. If you can sometimes see or feel the testicles, such as in the bath, they do not have undescended testicles.

Sometimes, a boy's testicles are in their scrotum at birth but as they get older their testicles are pulled up into their tummy. This can happen any time from one to 10 years of age. If it happens, you should take them to their general practice team to be checked.

Treating undescended testicles

Most testicles will come down by themselves by the time your baby is 3 months old.

If this has not happened, you'll need to see a specialist in children’s surgery to decide if your baby needs an operation. The operation involves moving the testicle into the scrotum then fixing it so it cannot move back up.

It's best if surgery to correct an undescended testicle is done at about one year of age and certainly well before puberty.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created August 2022.

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