Introduction 

Undescended testicles are a common childhood condition where a boy is born without both testicles in his scrotum.

It is estimated that about one in every 25 boys are born with undescended testicles.

In most cases, no action is necessary – the testicle(s) will move down into the scrotum naturally during the first three to six months. However, a small number of boys have testicles that stay undescended unless treated.

The medical term for having one or two undescended testicles is unilateral or bilateral cryptorchidism.

When to seek medical advice

While undescended testicles do not present any immediate health problems, you should see your GP if at any point you notice your child's testicles are not in the normal place within the scrotum.

What causes undescended testicles?

During pregnancy, the testicles form inside the baby’s abdomen (tummy), before slowly moving down into the scrotum from about two months before birth.

Undescended testicles are where the testicles do not move into the scrotum by the time the baby is born.

It is not known exactly why some boys are born with undescended testicles and others are not, although having a low birth weight, being born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy) and having a family history of undescended testicles have all been identified as risk factors.

Read more about the causes of undescended testicles.

Diagnosing undescended testicles

Undescended testicles usually have no symptoms other than not being able to feel the testicles in the scrotum. Your child will not normally experience any pain.

Undescended testicles are often diagnosed during a physical examination soon after a baby is born. This can usually determine whether the testicles are:

  • palpable – can be felt just above the scrotum
  • unpalpable – cannot be felt because they are higher up in the groin or abdomen

The majority of undescended testicles are palpable.

In some cases further tests are needed to determine the exact position of the testicle(s), such as a type of 'keyhole surgery' called a diagnostic laparoscopy.

Read more about how undescended testicles are diagnosed.

How undescended testicles are treated

In most cases, the testicle(s) will move down into the scrotum naturally during the first three to six months of the baby’s life.

If the testicle(s) do not descend by this time, treatment is usually recommended. This is because boys with undescended testicles may have fertility problems in later life and an increased risk of developing testicular cancer, although this risk is still very small.

If treatment is recommended, this will usually involve an operation called an orchidopexy to move the testicle(s) into the correct position inside the scrotum. This is a relatively straightforward operation with a good success rate.

Surgery is usually carried out before your child is two years old. If the condition is treated at an early age, the boy’s fertility should be unaffected.

In a small number of cases, it may be possible to use artificial hormones to stimulate the descent of the testicles.

Read more about treating undescended testicles.




Retractile testicles

In most boys, the testicles can move in and out of the scrotum at different times, usually changing position as a result of temperature changes or feelings of fear or excitement. This is a separate condition from undescended testicles, and is known as retractile testicles.

Retractile testicles in young boys are not a cause for concern, as the affected testicles(s) often settle permanently in the scrotum after puberty.

See your GP if you notice your child's testicle(s) are not within the scrotum. Your GP can carry out an examination to determine whether your child's testicles are undescended or retractile.

Page last reviewed: 11/12/2013

Next review due: 11/12/2015