Journal of Andrology, Vol. 24, No.

2, March/April 2003 American Society of Andrology Copyright

Cryptorchidism: Incidence, Risk Factors, and Potential Role of Environment; An Update
From the *Human Fertility Research Group, Urology and Andrology Department, and the †Occupational Medicine Department, La Grave Hospital, Toulouse, France.


tility, the percentage of men with a history of cryptorchidism is between 5% and 10% (Carizza et al, 1990; Mieusset et al, 1995). In this review, we will analyze the literature on the incidence and risk factors for cryptorchidism, as well as the arguments for and against a correlation between deleterious environmental conditions and the occurrence of cryptorchidism.

Over the past 10 years, a number of reports have increased concerns that exposure to certain types of chemicals in the environment, including in utero exposure to compounds with estrogenic or antiandrogenic activities, may be linked with recently observed deleterious effects on male reproductive health, especially a decrease in sperm production and an increased incidence of testicular cancer. In this broad debate concerning the reliability of the environmental hypothesis, numerous studies have been published on incidence trends, risk factors for cryptorchidism, and also the possible role of environmental conditions (Carlsen et al, 1992; Sharpe and Skakkebaek, 1993; Auger et al, 1995; Safe, 1995; Bergstrom et al, 1996; Cheek and McLachlan, 1998). Scorer (1964) has proposed the following definition of descent of the testis: ‘‘the descent of the testis is the movement of the organ from the abdominal cavity to the bottom of a fully developed and fully relaxed scrotum.’’ Cryptorchidism is the most frequent abnormality of male sexual differentiation. Cryptorchidism is the main risk factor for testicular cancer, which is currently the most frequent cancer in young men (Scorer, 1964; Chilvers et al, 1984; John Radcliffe Hospital Cryptorchidism Study Group, 1986, 1992). To date, only cryptorchidism persisting until the age of 1 year has been considered a risk factor for testicular cancer. Several authors now believe that any form of cryptorchidism at birth, regardless of the outcome, should be considered a risk factor for testicular cancer (Berkowitz et al, 1993). Cryptorchidism is also a major risk factor for male infertility. Among couples consulting for inferSupported by a grant from the UIPP (Union des Industries de la Protection des Plantes). Correspondence to: Dr P. F. Thonneau, Human Fertility Research Group, Urology and Andrology Department, La Grave Hospital, 31052 cedex Toulouse, France (e-mail: Received for publication July 23, 2002; accepted for publication October 9, 2002.

Has the Incidence of Cryptorchidism Increased?
As pointed out by Toppari et al (1996), it is difficult to compare the incidence rates of cryptorchidism reported in various publications. First of all, the definition of cryptorchidism varies according to the site of the testis: for example, some authors consider the testis ‘‘normal,’’ even when it is not located in the depth of the scrotum but in a high scrotal position. It is also often impossible to determine, in published studies, whether retractile testes (ie, testes that are not located in the bottom of the scrotum but that can be manually pushed into this position) are classified as ‘‘cryptorchidism’’ or as a ‘‘normal’’ testicular position. Another key point consists of clearly identifying, in published studies, the age of diagnosis of cryptorchidism, as it has been clearly established that the great majority of cases of cryptorchidism diagnosed at birth resolve spontaneously during the first years of life (natural course of cryptorchid testes). This could explain the large range of incidence rates reported in the literature: from less than 1% to 10% in data from hospital-based or central registers (with diagnosis performed from birth to 1 year of age) and from 0.2% to 13% in surveys performed in schools and in the army (with diagnosis performed in adolescents and young adults) (Buemann et al, 1961; Campbell et al, 1987; Thorup and Cortes, 1990; Kaul and Roberts, 1992; Thong et al, 1998). Finally, very few studies have tried to analyze cryptorchidism incidence trends over recent decades based on the same diagnostic criteria and in the same areas. In the United Kingdom, by studying the Hospital Inpatient Enquiry data for England and Wales, Chilvers et al (1984) reported a doubling of the incidence of cryptorchidism at birth, from 1.4% in 1952 to 2.9% in 1977. In 1992, a prospective study was performed on 7441 boys born in the John Radcliffe Hospital (Oxford) between 1984 and 1988. The authors observed an incidence


and infants small for gestational age. In the United States.00% at 3 months.06 Journal of Andrology · March/April 2003 chidism has remained more or less stable. † From the John Radcliffe Hospital Study Group (1992). and in the same place (Oxfordshire). Hjertkvist et al (1989) used the Swedish personal identification code and the Medical Birth Registry to compare cryptorchid boys with the total population of male births during the same period. the great majority of published data are in favor of an increase in the incidence of cryptorchidism over recent decades in North America and Europe. only a few reliable studies have been performed to evaluate trends in cryptorchidism incidence. In a prospective hospitalbased cohort study conducted in New York. * From Scorer (1964).2% at birth. Between 1987 and 1990.78% at 1 year. comparison of the results reported in these 3 studies (based on the same methodology) indicates an increase in the cryptorchidism incidence rate at 3 months in 2 of the 3 studies and also at 1 year for the 2 studies in which results were available at this time.00 1. In France (Paris area). 1993). the methodology used to assess cryptorchidism in these studies was not described. ‡ From Berkowitz et al (1993). and 255 cases of cryptorchidism were identified at birth.00 1.01% at birth and 1. 6935 consecutive male neonates were examined. with the follow-up of neonates diagnosed with a cryptorchidism at birth United Kingdom (Oxfordshire Area) Period of Follow-up (n 3612)* (n Percentage with a cryptorchidism: At birth 4. in this region of England. In the United States (Mount Sinai Hospital. 1992).. boys with a low birth weight. and it is also difficult to compare data derived from different countries because of the lack of precise methodology. and the total number of diagnosed cases was not indicated. in a meta-analysis performed in 1999. and boys born to primiparous or young mothers ( 20 years). a prospective hospital-based cohort study was conducted in cryptorchidism by using the same examination technique and the same definition of undescended testis as previously described by Scorer and the John Radcliffe Hospital Cryptorchidism Study Group (Berkowitz et al. based in Rome. followed by a sudden drop linked to recent major changes in cryptorchidism coding. making interpretation of incidence rates very difficult and the comparison of trends impossible.20 At 3 mo 0.78 .06% at 1 year. Unfortunately. Paulozzi (1999) used data collected by the International Clearing House of Birth Defect Monitoring Systems (a nongovernmental organization of the World Health Organization. In London. It is very interesting to note that several decades earlier. This tendency certainly needs to be confirmed by conducting new cohort studies with an adequate and standardized methodology (such as those described by Scorer [1964]. and 0. Comparison of the results of these studies therefore strongly suggests a marked and significant increase in the incidence of cryptorchidism between the late 1950s and the 1980s. In conclusion to this chapter on the incidence of cryptorchidism. and estrone) had been administered during gestation. The risk of cryptorchidism was significantly higher in boys with low birth weight and when estrogens (estradiol.97 At 1 y 0. 1. Nevertheless. the incidence of cryptor- What Are the Main Results of Epidemiological Studies on Risk Factors? A number of epidemiological studies (case-control studies and cohort surveys) were conducted in the 1980s and 1990s in order to identify the risk factors for cryptorchidism.78% at 3 months (John Radcliffe Hospital Cryptorchidism Study Group. Italy) to compare cryptorchidism incidence from several industrialized countries. 5.68% at birth. with about 15 cases per 1000 from 1974 to 1996 in Norway. Swerdlow et al (1983) compared 146 cases of orchidopexy and 146 matched controls (Oxford Record Linkage Study) and found that the risk of cryptorchidism was higher for boys delivered in a breech presentation.97% at 3 months. giving an incidence rate of 3. In Sweden. by using a similar methodology for the diagnosis and follow-up of cryptorchidism. 1986.68 1. Berkowitz et al (1995) examined 6699 singleton male neonates deliv- . In Canada. of cryptorchidism of 5. for example). New York).156 Comparison of 3 cohort studies. although a slight decrease was observed after 1990. In European countries..78 United States (New York City) 7400)† (n 6935)‡ 3. Finally. with an incidence rate growing from 14 per 1000 to 24 per 1000. A significant increase in the risk of cryptorchidism was found to be associated with the first birth. in the 20 years from 1974 to 1994. In the United States. Depue (1984) studied the cohort of the Collaborative Perinatal Project of the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke. the incidence has increased slightly from 8 per 1000 in 1981 to 12 per 1000 in 1993 and is currently stable at this level. cesarean section or toxemia. In England. Scorer (1964) reported an incidence of 4. diethylstilbestrol [DES]. and 1. the incidence of cryptorchidism has globally increased. a continuous increase (from 1970 to 1994) was observed with discordances in the United States–Atlanta system. similar trends toward a global increase in the incidence of cryptorchidism were observed until 1987. As shown in the Table. 0.

Firstborn infants were at slightly higher risk than those of higher parity. England. breach presentation. The authors therefore suggested that the deleterious effects in juvenile alligators are not associated with current serum levels of environmental contaminants but could be due to exposure during embryonic development. and vomiting) and cryptorchidism. the same authors found no relationship between phallus size and other body parameters. 1995. which evaluates the contribution of environmental pollutants to specific diseases observed in wildlife by distinguishing between genetic causes (for example. In England. Moline et al. Florida panthers were found to display a large variety of endocrine and reproductive disorders. Jones et al (1998) conducted a case-control study to examine prenatal risk factors for cryptorchidism. McBride et al (1991) found no significant association between exogenous estrogen exposure (oral contraceptive use and female hormones) or indirect indicators of endogenous estrogen exposure (such as bleeding. researchers thought that inbreeding might account for the drastic reduction in Florida panther numbers and the observed reproductive disorders.and secondborn boys were overrepresented in the case group. The risk of cryptorchidism was associated with birth weight: risks were highest for boys small for gestational age at birth and boys born before the 33rd week of gestation. One interesting approach in this field is the methodology of ecoepidemiology. gonadal abnormalities. The risk of cryptorchidism increased with decreasing birth weight. 1999). and sex steroid concentrations (estradiol 17 . These negative results were comparable to those observed by Beard et al (1984) with exposure to estrogens. organochlorine pesticides and PCBs were detected at all sites. and serum testosterone concentrations were lower in males from Lake Apopka and Orange Lake than in controls from the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. inbreeding in isolated subpopulations) and environmental conditions (Bowerman et al. from invertebrates to mammals. Finally. Boys (n 1449) treated for cryptorchidism by orchidopexy were compared with random matched controls from all live births (n 10 811). serum contaminant levels (organochlorine pesticides—polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs]). Finally. independently of the duration of gestation. in a case-control study with 244 cases and 488 controls. The risk of cryptorchidism was found to be high for infants born to obese mothers. Mayr et al (1999) performed a retrospective hospital-based study in which 447 boys undergoing orchidopexy were compared with an equal number of otherwise healthy male age-matched trauma patients. and preeclampsia. this hypothesis is sufficiently attractive to be confirmed by ongoing studies. The authors compared 2782 boys undergoing surgery for cryptorchidism with 13 916 random matched controls. and low testosterone concentrations). by using the Oxford Record Linkage Study. twins were found to have a lower risk of cryptorchidism than singletons in the same birth weight classes. Although placental dysfunction cannot explain all cases of cryptorchidism. These authors suggested that fetal growth retardation that causes children to be small for gestational age may be due to uteroplacental malfunction. The history of the Florida panther illustrates this approach (Facemire et al. After a more complete investigation of the dietary habits of the Florida panther. 4 case-control studies based on large numbers of individuals have been conducted in Sweden. The frequency of cryptorchidism was higher in the case of intrauterine growth retardation (low birth weights for equal gestational age). Weidner et al (1999) compared 6177 boys with cryptorchidism to 23 273 male controls born alive in Denmark from 1983 to 1992. In British Columbia. as stated by Moller and Weidner (1999). low social class. which eat fish that have accumulated large amounts of endocrine-disrupting pesticides). More recently. Akre et al (1999) used record linkage between the Inpatient and Birth Registries to conduct a casecontrol study (nested in a nationwide cohort). What Evidence Is There for a Potential Impact of Environment in Cryptorchidism? In Animals—Environmental pollutants have been linked to adverse effects on male reproduction in various wildlife species. in a recent study (Guillette et al. . The risk of cryptorchidism was almost 4 times higher when an older brother had a history of the same condition. 1995).testosterone). The authors also observed that first. breech presentation. with low birth weight or born preterm. 2000). In Sweden. Another example of possible environmental contamination (organochlorine pesticides) is provided by juvenile alligators of Lake Apopka (Guillette et al. and twin) into a comprehensive model.Thonneau et al · Cryptorchidism Incidence Rate ered between 1987 and 1990. The risk of cryptorchidism was found to be higher for low birth weight and premature infants but also for low parity. nausea. and Austria. At first. complicated deliveries. including a very high frequency of cryptorchidism (ca 90%). resulting in inadequate androgen production. 1995) in Florida (which have smaller than normal penises. low parity. delivered by cesarean section. In Austria. Denmark. they proposed another possible explanation: exposure to environmental xenoestrogens (Florida panthers eat raccoons. 1994. the essential problem is to integrate the risk of being born 157 small for gestational age with other well-identified risk factors for cryptorchidism (cesarean section. Nevertheless. However. and chronic diseases in relatives.

All substances tested were detected in both cases and controls (DDT and metabolites. 1979. pesticides) and a high cryptorchidism incidence rate. 18 of whom had undescended testes (mean age of 3. In Humans: Results of Epidemiological Studies of Occupational and Environmental Factors—In the province of Granada. In Humans: The Evidence for Bioaccumulation of Some Chemical Compounds—To determine whether some pesticides and synthetic chemicals known to act as hormonal disruptors accumulate and persist in adipose tissue. This factory produced vinyl chloride monomer and acrylonitrile. but within this group.14–2. 1995). born alive from 1983 to 1992 (Weidner et al. A higher frequency of undescended testes was observed in the newborns of mothers living in the town closest to the factory. Two points must be made concerning this study: 1) there was no matching for parity (maternal free estradiol levels are higher during the first pregnancy than in subsequent pregnancies). To conclude this chapter on the potential impact of the environment on cryptorchidism: 1) Ecoepidemiological studies performed in various animal species are in favor of an impact of environmental pollutants (especially organochlorine pesticides) on reproductive disorders and on the unexpected high incidence of cryptorchidism. high concentrations of endosulfan and lindane have been found in the adipose tissue of children). 1978. Wilcox et al (1995) observed that genital abnormalities were more frequent in men exposed before the 11th week of gestation than in those exposed later.47) but not in the sons of men working in horticulture. prevalence depended on climatic conditions. and chlorinated benzenes). Skakkebaek and colleagues from the Department of Growth and Reproduction at the University of Copenhagen performed a register-based case-control study of parental occupation in agriculture and horticulture for 6177 cases of cryptorchidism and 23 273 controls. Driscoll and Taylor. In Hungary. In Norway. Stillman. and 2) free estradiol concentration was not determined (free estradiol may be the only bioavailable form) in these newborns. taxophenes. in various Norwegian farming families involved in the production of grain and nongrain crops (identified by means of agricultural census). 1994). with the prevalence higher under conditions associated with the issue of fungal warnings. is associated with undescended testes in male offspring (Gill et al. Cases with congenital abnormalities were identified from the data set of the Hungarian Congenital Abnormality Register. the adjoining province. which were used for the manufacture of stiffened plastic tubes and cartons for the packaging of margarine to be sold to local consumers. where the entire family. including the mother. in a recent meta-analysis of fetal genital effects of first-trimester sex hormone exposure. 2) DES has a well-documented impact on undescended testes in male offspring. 1982). in Spain. High levels of estradiol were found in the placentas of neonates with cryptorchidism. 1998). They found that the risk of cryptorchidism was significantly higher in sons of women working in horticulture (adjusted odds ratio 1. What Kind of Hormonal Mechanisms Could Be Involved in Cryptorchidism? The testicles descend in 2 distinct. 1. suggesting that there may be a similar increase in estradiol concentration in the fetal plasma during gestation. However. 1997. The first phase of relative transabdominal migration (10–15 weeks of gestation) may be controlled by Mullerian inhibiting substance and ¨ . hormonally regulated phases (Hutson et al. DES. Hadziselimovic et al (2000) recently compared estradiol levels in the placenta between newborns with cryptorchidism and normal male newborns. no association was observed between genital abnormalities and first-trimester exposure to sex hormones other than DES (Raman-Wilms et al. The prevalence of cryptorchidism was not higher in the sons of grain farmers. In Denmark. Czeizel et al (1999) reported congenital abnormalities in 46 326 infants born to mothers living in a region close to an acrylonitrile factory between 1980 and 1996. Hosie et al (2000) used high-resolution gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to examine fat samples from 48 German patients. but heptachloroepoxide and hexachlorobenzene were present in significantly higher concentrations in patients with undescended testes. 1980). 3) Results of ecoepidemiological and occupational studies in humans are not totally conclusive on a direct relationship between environmental exposure (for example. Garcia-Rodriguez et al (1996) carried out an ecology-based study to search for variations in the frequency of orchidopexy according to geographical differences in pesticide exposure (4-level classification).67. 2000) were performed to investigate adverse reproductive outcomes. They observed that the frequency of orchidopexy tended to be higher in districts near the Mediterranean Coast. complemented with cases reviewed in pediatric and cytogenetic units.158 In Humans: The Dramatic Story of DES—One of the most documented deleterious actions of estrogens concerns the use of DES in pregnant women to prevent abortion complications (Brackbill and Berendes. chlorinated cyclodienes.5 years). 2 studies (Kristensen et al. In a follow-up study of DES exposure in males. a nonsteroidal estrogenic substance. PCBs. including cryptorchidism (using the Medical Birth Journal of Andrology · March/April 2003 Register). hexachlorocyclohexane. is involved in intensive farming and pesticide spraying (in Murcia province.

1999. recent studies failed to find any association between Insl3 gene mutation and human cryptorchidism (Koskimies et al. 1999). 2001. such as flutamide. 2000). Recently. 1996). epididymal anomalies. Zimmermann et al.p -DDE. indicating an androgen-independent pathway (Nef and Parada. 1990). van der Schoot. 1997. 1996). Walk¨ er et al. 1995. they found that cases had significantly higher percentages of nonprotein-bound and albumin-bound estradiol than controls during the first trimester of pregnancy: on average. as 70% of sexually mature mice with an estrogen receptor–disrupted mutation presented with cryptorchidism due to excessive development of the cremaster muscle. that industrial chemicals known to be potential endocrine disruptors are responsible for the recent increase in the number of cases of cryptorchidism (Safe. The Role of Competition in Bioavailability—Several studies have also reported that sex hormone-binding globulin (hSHBG) may transport contaminating xenoestrogens in the plasma and modulate their bioavailability to cells and tissues. vinclozolin. and phthalates) that have been shown to have an antiandrogen activity (Goh et al. However. 1999). However. Massad and Barouki. Similar conclusions have been already obtained by Bernstein et al (1998). 1991). 1999. The Estrogen Hypothesis—Experimental models in pregnant rodents have demonstrated that in utero exposure to estrogens can induce cryptorchidism. 2000). among other effects. Insl3 knockout mice presented bilateral intra-abdominal cryptorchidism but normal androgenization of the other internal and external genitalia. Data concerning the effects of environmental exposure are more convincing in animals (especially under experimental conditions) than data concerning environmental or occupational exposure in humans. 1982. 2000. Shono et al. and this may direct the search for potential similar risk factors (Fallon et al. Mylchreest et al. Marin et al. providing a possible mechanism for cryptorchidism (Zimmermann et al. to prenatal rats during the early gubernaculum outgrowth phase partially or completely inhibits testicular descent in rodents (Husmann and McPhaul. insulin-like growth factor 3 (Insl3) was identified as a protein manufactured by Leydig cells that may have a role in testicular descent by causing normal gubernacular proliferation. Recent data in rodents suggest that insulin-3 may be a potential target for endocrine disruptors with estrogenic activities.Thonneau et al · Cryptorchidism Incidence Rate probably also by other hormones. 1994. In a case-control study to assess the role of hormonal factors. Dechaud et al. Moreover. Indeed. pentachlorophenol. Kassim et al. the main risk factor identified for cryptorchidism is definitely low birth weight (for equal gestational age). Spencer et al. a tendency toward an increase in the incidence of cryptorchidism has also been observed over recent decades in industrialized countries. a gubernacular derivative (Donaldson et al. 2000). in press). 1991. 1999. 2000). including 17 and -estradiol and DES. Kelce and Wilson. The relatively high frequency of cryptorchidism and . The Antiandrogen Hypothesis—Administration of a potent nonsteroidal antiandrogen. The differences in incidence rates reported for cryptorchidism may result from biases due to the nonuniform definition of this condition. 1997). 1988. 1991. and a stabilization of the Mullerian ducts (Grocock et al. and inguinal hernia) are often observed in cases of cryptorchidism. The hypothesis that cryptorchidism may result from an 159 antiandrogen effect is based on toxicology results for certain pesticide compounds (p. 2002). Joffe. an induction of estrogen receptors within the Wolffian ducts. Other malformations (hypospadias. Emmen et al. Nef et al. cases had 16% more bioavailable estradiol than controls. alkyl phenols. the use of androgen receptor blockade with flutamide in the peri. 1992. Kelce et al. harmonization is required concerning the precise definition of this malformation and its diagnostic criteria. 1999. In humans. 1995. Spencer et al. Douglas. at the present time. Conclusion At the same time as a widespread increase in the incidence of testicular cancer (Huyghe et al. Donnell et al. Certain chemical compounds (eg. 2000. Emmen et al. the debate is still very open concerning the substances actually involved and the mechanisms by which they may cause cryptorchidism (Soto et al. Maternal exposure in mice to estrogens. 1991. McMahon et al. 1999. These results indicate that androgen inhibition during a brief period of embryonic development can block testicular descent in the rat. The second inguinoscrotal phase occurs at 26 to 35 weeks of gestation and seems to be androgen-dependent and possibly indirectly mediated by the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide from the genitofemoral nerve (Hutson et al. was recently shown to specifically down-regulate insulin-3 production in embryonic Leydig cells (Nef and Parada. exogenous estrogens induce a reduction of gubernaculum outgrowth. Krausz et al. disrupting the androgen-to-estrogen balance (Danzo. 2001). 1997. Barthold and Redman. Zakaria et al. 1995. Baker et al. 1994. As stated by several authors.and postnatal period failed to inhibit testicular descent in rats (Husmann and McPhaul. To date. No formal conclusions can be drawn. endogenous estrogens could interfere with testicular descent via development of the gubernaculum testis. In animals. 2000). 1997. 1993. and biphenols) may therefore displace endogenous sex steroid hormones from hSHBG sites. 1994. 2000.

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