A new study has suggested that baby boys born with undescended testicles are more likely to suffer from cancer and infertility when they become adults. The Australian study discovered that 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.
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.
It also revealed that having undescended testicles at birth, known as cryptorchidism, also makes men twice as likely to seek fertility treatments. According to the NHS, undescended testicles occurs 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. However, around one in 100 boys have testicles that will stay undescended unless treated.
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The vast majority of the time, the undescended testicle moves into the proper position on its own, within the first few months of life. If your son has an undescended testicle that doesn’t correct itself, surgery can relocate the testicle into the scrotum.
During pregnancy, a boy’s testicles form in his abdomen 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, the NHS said. Testicles are on the outside of the body because sperm production takes place at 35°C, which is 2°C cooler than body temperature.
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. NHS suggest that surgery should be carried out before a boy’s first birthday.
According to MailOnline, previous research suggests testicles reach a higher temperature when in the abdomen, which may trigger tumour development in later life. The link between cryptorchidism and cancer is unclear.
The exact cause of an undescended testicle isn’t known. A combination of genetics, maternal health and other environmental factors might disrupt the hormones, physical changes and nerve activity that influence the development of the testicles. Factors that might increase the risk of an undescended testicle in a newborn include:
- Low birth weight.
- Premature birth.
- Family history of undescended testicles or other problems of genital development.
- Conditions of the fetus that can restrict growth, such as Down syndrome or an abdominal wall defect.
- Alcohol use by the mother during pregnancy. Read more
- Cigarette smoking by the mother or exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Parents’ exposure to some pesticides.
In order for the testicles to develop and function normally, they need to be slightly cooler than normal body temperature. The scrotum provides this cooler environment. Complications of a testicle not being located where it is supposed to be include testicular cancer and fertility problems.
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, and when both testicles are affected. Surgically correcting an undescended testicle might decrease, but not eliminate, the risk of future testicular cancer.
Low sperm counts, poor sperm quality and decreased fertility are more likely to occur among men who’ve had an undescended testicle. This can be due to abnormal development of the testicle, and might get worse if the condition goes untreated for an extended period of time.
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