Baby boys born with undescended testicles are more likely to suffer from cancer and infertility as adults, new research suggests.
Male infants who are born with their testicles in their abdomens rather than their scrotums are 2.4 times more at risk of testicular cancer as adults than those without the birth defect, an Australian study found.
Having undescended testicles at birth, known as cryptorchidism, also makes men twice as likely to seek fertility treatments, the research adds.
The link between cryptorchidism and cancer is unclear, however, previous research suggests testicles reach a higher temperature when in the abdomen, which may trigger tumour development in later life.
This may also be why men born with cryptorchidism can suffer from infertility. Testicles are on the outside of the body due to sperm production taking place at 35°C, which is 2°C cooler than body temperature.
Around one in every 25 boys in the UK and three per cent in the US are born with cryptorchidism. Although their testicles usually descend on their own, one in 100 require treatment.
Boys born with undescended testicles are more likely to suffer from cancer as adults (stock)
WHAT ARE UNDESCENDED TESTICLES?
Undescended testicles, known as cryptorchidism, occur when a baby boy’s testicles are in his abdomen rather than his scrotum.
In most cases the testicles gradually move down after three-to-six months.
Yet around one in 100 boys have testicles that will stay undescended unless treated.
During pregnancy, a boy’s testicles form in his abodmen and move down to the scrotum one-to-two months before birth.
It is unclear why some boys are born with their testicles undescended, with most cases being otherwise healthy.
Being born prematurely, having a low birth weight and a family history of the condition all raise a boy’s risk of cryptorchidism.
If necessary, treatment usually involves an operation, called an orchidopexy, to move the testicles to their correct position.
Surgery should be carried out before a boy’s first birthday.
This is due to cryptorchidism being linked to testicular cancer and infertility in later life.
How the research was carried out
Researchers from the University of Sydney analysed 350,835 boys who were born in Western Australia between 1970 and 1999. The participants were followed until 2016.
Data registers were examined to determine if the participants had any birth defects, hospital admissions or cancer diagnoses, as well as if they underwent assisted reproduction treatments.
The findings were published in the journal The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health.
‘Early surgery can reduce the risk of malignancy and male infertility’
Results further suggest that for every six month delay in surgically moving undescended testicles from the abdomen to the scrotum, a baby boy’s later risk of testicular cancer increases by six per cent.
Men born with with the condition are also 20 per cent more likely to suffer from infertility.
Study author Professor Natasha Nassar said: ‘The study provides new evidence to support international guidelines recommending surgery before 18 months for boys with undescended testes to reduce the risk of both testicular cancer and infertility later in life.’
Worldwide, around 75 per cent of baby boys with cryptorchidism are operated on after 18 months.
Lead author Dr Francisco Schneuer added: ‘Early surgery can reduce the risk of malignancy and male infertility, and ultimately has the potential to reduce future adult male reproductive disorders.
‘Early diagnosis, ongoing examination and monitoring by parents and health practitioners and timely referral to surgery of boys with undescended testes is important to ensure adherence with guidelines.’