Cryptorchidism is a condition present at birth in which one or both testicles fail to descend into the scrotum. The condition is also called undescended testicle, cryptorchidism, and empty scrotum.
As a boy develops, his testicles begin their formation within his pelvic cavity and then near the end of final trimester of the pregnancy, the testicles drops into the scrotum. Because the descending of the testicles occurs so close to the time of birth, it is common for baby boys who are born prematurely to have one or both undsecended testicles at the time of birth.
Approximately 30 percent of premature male infants are born with one or both undescended testicles. In baby boys who make it to term, the occurrence is much lower, approximately 4 percent.
The condition often self-corrects within the first six to seven months of the boy’s life and typically no treatment is given until this time. However, if the testicle does not descend on its own, surgical treatment to lower the testicle is recommended to prevent complications.
Symptoms of Undescended Testicle (Cryptorchidism)
An infant boy will not experience symptoms and there is no pain or discomfort present. The only sign of cyptorchidism is the absence of the testicle in the scrotum, which is where the name empty scrotum comes from
If a boy grows up and the testicle(s) remain undescended, he may have issues with infertility and his risk of cancer involving the testicle may increase.
Causes of Undescended Testicle (Cryptorchidism)
Why a testicle does not descend is not fully understood, but the condition is somewhat common in premature baby boys.
Cryptorchidism may be linked to a deficiency of certain hormones, adhesions, or blockage that does not allow the testicle to descend out of the pelvic cavity.
Diagnosing an Undescended Testicle (Cryptorchidism)
The boy’s scrotum will appear underdeveloped and the testicle will not be able to be felt within the scrotum. A pediatrician will perform a physical examination to try to locate the testicle in the abdominal wall. In some cases, further tests such as ultrasound or CT scan may be necessary.
Undescended Testicle (Cryptorchidism) Treatment
The undescended testicle may spontaneously self correct itself without treatment by age one.
If the condition does not change, surgery (orchiopexy) to bring the testicle down should be performed by 18 months of age. Hormonal therapy (using human chorionic gonadotropin or testosterone) may be used prior to surgery.
Surgical correction is recommended early in the child’s life to prevent permanent damage to the testicle. Cryptorchidism that is not treated early may increase the risk of infertility or testicular cancer.