Below the Belt: Undescended Testes

Avon - Undescended testes

Such joy it brings when a child is born! All children are a blessing however we cannot deny the patriarchal value our society places on male children. Fathers understandably want the family name to live on for another generation, but this may not be possible if the young son is himself unable to have children.

Reproductive health is a topic we are uncomfortable discussing and is certainly the last thing on one’s mind when a child is born. However, undescended testes is a common childhood condition that affects 1 in 25 new born boys and, if left untreated can cause testicular cancer or infertility.

What is Undescended testes?

Undescended testes, or cryptorchidism, is where a boy is born without one or both testicles in his scrotum. Testicles (testes) are the male sex glands that produce sperm and sex hormones. For them to develop and function normally, they need to be slightly cooler than normal body temperature. This is why they are usually located in the scrotum (outside the body). In cases of undescended testicles, one or both testicles are lodged in the groin or lower abdomen.

Undescended testes are the most common congenital abnormality in boys. Four percent of all new born boys are affected with the rate increasing to 30% in cases of premature delivery or low birth weight.

How is it caused?

The cause is unknown though it is thought to occur when the normal development of the testicles is disrupted. In addition to prematurity and low birth rate, other factors that may increase the risk of undescended testicles include pre-natal alcohol use, pre-natal smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke, gestational diabetes mellitus and a family history of the condition.

How does one check for it?

Undescended testes are usually diagnosed soon after the baby is born or during a routine check-up when they are 6 – 8 weeks old. The main sign is not seeing or feeling a testicle in the scrotum.

Can it be treated?

In 80% of cases, the testes will move down into the scrotum naturally by the time the child is 3 – 6 months old. For some, this may not happen until the child is 6 – 12 months old. If the testes do not descend by time the child is 1 year old, it is very unlikely they will do so without treatment.

Treatment usually involves surgically repositioning the testicle into the scrotum.

Is treatment necessary?

Without treatment, there is an increased risk of testicular cancer, infertility, testicular torsion (where the testicles twist so much that the blood supply is cut off), hernia and trauma.

So, while basking in the euphoria of having your new born son, be sure to check more than the five senses. Don’t forget to look further down.

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