What Is an Undescended Testicle?

An undescended testicle, also called “empty scrotum” or “cryptorchidism,” occurs when a boy’s testicle remains in the abdomen after birth. According to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, 3 percent of newborn boys, and up to 21 percent of premature males, are born with the painless condition.

The testicle will usually descend on its own by the time a baby is a year old. However, your child may require treatment and plenty of reassurance to remain healthy and happy.

What Are the Risks?

The condition is painless, but it can increase your child’s risk for a number of health conditions. For example, an undescended testicle is more likely to become twisted or injured during forceful impact or trauma.

Even after surgery to bring down an undescended testicle, fertility may be affected by low sperm count and poor quality sperm. Men who had an undescended testicle as a child also have an increased risk of testicular cancer.

Boys should be taught testicle self-examination to catch unusual lumps or bumps early.

Fixing the Problem Is a Flash

Early treatment ensures increased fertility and prevents injury. Surgical repair will also help your child feel more at ease with his developing body.

Reassure your son that the procedure will not take him away from the important things in life — such as school, sports, friends, and video games — for very long. A small incision in the groin is all it takes to direct the testicle into the proper position. A week’s recovery time is average.

Learn the Lingo

Your child may be self-conscious, worried, or embarrassed about his undescended testicle. This is especially true if he’s heading into middle school and puberty. Teach him the basics of the condition, including all anatomically correct language. That will help him get a better handle on how to answer potentially embarrassing questions in the locker room.

Just One of the Guys

Most pre-teen boys want to blend in and be “just one of the guys.” Remind your child that he’s just as healthy, smart, and awesome as the rest of his crowd. An undescended testicle isn’t anything to be ashamed of.

It’s a condition, not an illness. Your son isn’t sick, his altered anatomy isn’t causing him pain, and nobody can see it when he’s fully dressed. In fact, it’s barely noticeable during the quick changes before and after gym class. In essence, it’s no big deal.

Wardrobe Adjustments

Even with reassurance, a boy with an undescended testicle may be shy about changing for gym class and team sports. Offer a boost of confidence in the form of a new wardrobe. Buy your son boxer-style underwear or swim trunks instead of more form-fitting briefs and jammer-style swimsuits. The loose fit hides the empty scrotum that results from an undescended or removed testicle. He might just start a trend at the pool.

The Stock Answer

Your child’s friends might ask questions about his undescended testicle, which can cause him to become flustered or embarrassed. Help him prepare an answer when faced with questions. Depending on your son’s personality, he could play it straight with a medically accurate answer, or insert a little humor if it helps him stay calm and less defensive.

If he takes the humor route, he might answer that his other testis is “tucked away for a rainy day.” Feigning ignorance of the situation could lighten the mood too. For example, “It’s not there? I must have lost it during the soccer game!”

Beware of Bullies

Asking about a sensitive medical condition is OK. Bullying with mean-spirited comments and teasing is not. Kids who are bullied may or may not tell their parents. They might also withdraw from friends and family, lose their appetites, or stop enjoying activities and hobbies.

Keep an eye on your child and check in with him periodically to make sure he’s not being bullied about his testicular anomaly.

The Final Word

Cryptorchidism is a painless condition that is easily treated. However, self-consciousness and embarrassment may be more difficult for your child to deal with than the physical treatment and recovery. Reassurance in many forms from both doctors and parents can help a child with an undescended testicle realize that he is healthy and normal.