In order for testicles to develop and function normally, they need to be slightly cooler than normal body temperature. The scrotum provides this cooler environment. Until a boy is 3 or 4 years old, the testicles continue to undergo changes that affect how well they function later.
Complications of a testicle not being located where it is supposed to be include:
- Testicular cancer. Testicular cancer usually begins in the cells in the testicle that produce immature sperm. What causes these cells to develop into cancer is unknown. Men who've had an undescended testicle have an increased risk of testicular cancer. The risk is greater for undescended testicles located in the abdomen than in the groin. Surgically correcting an undescended testicle might decrease, but not eliminate, the risk of future testicular cancer.
- Fertility problems. Low sperm counts, poor sperm quality and decreased fertility are more likely to occur among men who've had an undescended testicle. A decrease in cells in the testicle that produce sperm has been found as early as 1 year old.
Other complications related to the abnormal location of the undescended testicle include:
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- Testicular torsion. Testicular torsion is the twisting of the spermatic cord, which contains blood vessels, nerves and the tube that carries semen from the testicle to the penis. This painful condition cuts off blood to the testicle. If not treated promptly, it might result in the loss of the testicle. Testicular torsion occurs 10 times more often in undescended testicles than in normal testicles.
- Trauma. If a testicle is located in the groin, it might be damaged from pressure against the pubic bone.
- Inguinal hernia. If the opening between the abdomen and the inguinal canal is too loose, a portion of the intestines can push into the groin.
- Ashley RA, et al. Cryptorchidism: Pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. Urologic Clinics of North America. 2010;37:183.
- Cooper CS, et al. Undescended testes (cryptorchidism) in children and adolescents. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 15, 2013.
- Kliegman RM, et al. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2011. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/208746819-6/0/1608/0.html. Accessed Feb. 15, 2013.
- Lao OB, et al. Pediatric inguinal hernias, hydroceles, and undescended testicles. Surgical Clinics of North America. 2012;92:487.
- Nippoldt TB (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 28, 2013.
- Granberg CF (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 28, 2013.