During prenatal development, testicles form in a male infant’s abdomen. Just before being born, the boy’s testicles move down into the scrotum.
About 1 in 20 infant boys are born with their testicles still in the abdomen, a condition that can be visually diagnosed.
Undescended testes can include:
- One or both testicles
- Retractile testicles — testicles that move freely between the scrotum and abdomen
- Ascending testicles — a normal testicle returns to the abdomen
The Cause of Undescended Testes
A variety of factors can contribute to this condition, including:
- Premature birth
- Exposure to cigarette smoke or alcohol
- Hormonal or genetic abnormalities
- Gestational diabetes
- Family history of the condition
Testes that don’t descend into the scrotum can cause:
- Risk for testicular cancer, especially by age 30 or 40
- Inguinal hernia, a weakened area in the lower belly wall where intestines may push through
- Testicular torsion, a painful twisting that can decrease blood supply to the testes
- Emotional stress
Treatment for Undescended Testes
Sometimes, testes descend on their own by age 3 or 6 months. Retractile testicles will completely descend at puberty.
If the testes do not descend by themselves, you can consider these treatment options.
Called orchiopexy, this procedure moves the testicle and stitches it into place. This minimally invasive surgery:
- Is usually done between 6 and 18 months of age
- Works for most children
Hormones that make testosterone can stimulate testicle growth and help the testes descend. However, doctors don’t use this treatment as often, and you’ll want to discuss risks and benefits of this approach with your provider.