Undescended Testes and Testicular Cancer Risk

Last Modified: July 9, 2006

Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

At 10 months old, my son had undescended testicle surgery. At that time, I was told he will have a higher chance to develop testicular cancer around 10 years of age. He is 8 years old now. How common is this? I have been looking for answers, none to be found. Please guide me, I would sleep a lot better with some answers.

Answer

Amit Maity, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

It is generally accepted that boys who had an undescended testis have a higher risk of developing cancer in this testis, even if surgery is performed at an early age to lower the testis. The reason for this is not understood.

There is disagreement about exactly how high the risk is. In some studies, an undescended testis is associated with a 2- to 4-fold increase in the risk of testicular cancer ; in others it is 5-10 fold. However, as high as these numbers may sound, keep in mind that testicular cancer is not nearly as common in the general population as other cancers, such as breast, prostate, colorectal, and lung.

In one British study published in 1997, 1,075 boys with undescended testis diagnosed in the 1950's and early 1960's were followed into the mid 1990's. Eleven of these subjects developed testicular cancer. The relative risk compared to men in the general population was 7.5 (meaning the risk is 7.5 times that of a child with descended testes). Given that testicular cancer is so rare, this rate is still quite low. So you can see that even with the history of an undescended testis, the overwhelming likelihood is that your son will NOT develop testicular cancer. However, because he is at higher risk, he should undergo regular testicular examinations by a healthcare provider, and when he is old enough, he should examine his testes himself.

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