Bringing home a newborn can feel like running before you learn to walk. Sure, they aren’t running yet, but even before they’ve taken their first steps, they are developing very quickly. Amidst the joys of sleep schedules, weight and height benchmarks and a growing vocabulary of squeaks, squeals and raspberries, there are a litany of other milestones parents and pediatricians are looking out for.
Descended testicles are just one of many items on the healthy newborn boy checklist. In full-term births, undescended testicles (cryptorchidism) are rather rare – about a 3-4% chance. However, that likelihood increases to about 30% for premature newborn boys. For babies born with undescended testicles, the issue resolves on its own about two-thirds of the time. If your infant didn’t check that box at birth, you may be in the minority, but you have options.
Testicles that are undescended at birth will typically descend by the time a child reaches 3-4 months. This is something that a parent can keep an eye on during regular diaper changes and is also part of regular wellness visits for pediatricians. To better understand the risks and treatments for undescended testicles , we spoke with Ariella Friedman, MD, a pediatric urologist with Banner Children's. She explained the next steps for parents of children who have undescended testicles.
Know the risks
“Making your recommended well child visits is vital for your infant’s overall health. Without these regular visits, issues like cryptorchidism may go undetected and untreated,” said Dr. Friedman. She went on to list the dangers of missing treatment.
- Increased risk of infertility: In boys with a history of one undescended testicle, fertility may drop as little as 3% vs. the general population. However, for boys with a history of both testicles undescended, that rate drops by 29% comparatively.
- Boys with a history of cryptorchidism have a four times higher risk of developing testicular cancer than the general population, although still uncommon overall.
For children 6 months or older with cryptorchidism, a surgery called orchiopexy is the recommended treatment. Although the surgery cannot reverse every side effect listed above, it can stop those issues from developing further. Left untreated, an undescended testicle becomes more susceptible. “The surgery will be scheduled after the child reaches 6 months to ensure the safe use of anesthesia,” said Dr. Friedman.
For these patients, Dr. Friedman emphasized that treatment for cryptorchidism is generally very successful, and recovery is fast and with little associated pain. Despite some minor discomfort for the first day or two, your little one will bounce right back to his normal squirmy self. Most of the healing resolves by 3-4 weeks with complete healing expected within 3 months.
Cryptorchidism in older children
For older children and teenagers with cryptorchidism, if the issue was not resolved as an infant, surgery can be more challenging. The testicle will have also spent more time in inadequate conditions, likely increasing the risk factors listed above. For some adults undergoing corrective treatment, the decision to remove the testicle(s) entirely may be safer than simply placing the testicle into the scrotum.
“All this is said to emphasize the importance of early treatment, not to discourage later treatment,” explained Dr. Friedman. Regardless of age, cryptorchidism should be treated right away to minimize long-term complications.
So much is happening in your baby’s life, it’s hard to keep track of it all. Your infant’s pediatrician is your best friend, especially during this first important year. If you don’t already have a pediatrician, there is no better time to start that relationship than now.
Do you have more questions about infant health? Check out these articles written with the help of other Banner Health experts.