Paediatric Surgery



The Penis and Foreskin

What is normal?

At birth, most baby boys’ foreskins are attached to the glans. As part of normal development, the foreskin (prepuce) slowly detaches from the underlying glans.

  • By 16 years only 3% will still have adhesions present
  • Only very occasionally, persistent adhesions require surgical intervention

A non-retractile prepuce is normal in babies and toddlers

  • By 16 years only 1% will still have a non-retractile prepuce (‘physiological phimosis)
  • The prepuce should never be forcibly retracted

‘Ballooning’ of the foreskin during urination is a normal phenomenon

  • This is not an indication for surgical intervention

Occasionally, smegma can build up under the prepuce, leading to palpable lumps, which can discharge

  • This is a normal condition, and is related to preputial adhesions still present
  • Most will resolve spontaneously and not require surgical intervention



Mild inflammation of the tip of the prepuce is common.

  • This can be due to contact with soiled nappies, or alkaline soaps / bubble baths.
  • Usually resolves with simple measures, such as drying the tip, and occasionally a short course of mild topical steroids. Surgery is not indicated.

Inflammation of the glans +/- prepuce is called balanitis. This can sometimes be caused by an infection.

  • Soak in a warm bath, preferably with the foreskin retracted.
  • POTENT Topical steroid lotions (e.g. 0.05% betamethasone) are indicated in persistent or recurrent balanitis.


REFER if Recurrent / Severe Balanitis

  • As scarring of prepuce / glans may occur
  • Circumcision may be offered.




  • Sclerosing condition of the prepuce

o   In severe cases involves glans and meatus.

o   Can progress to a thickened non-retractile prepuce (pathological phimosis).

  • Early detection can respond to topical steroids


REFER all suspected cases of BXO

  • If scarring is present, circumcision is commonly offered.




  • Rare condition involving a pyogenic infection of the preputial sac.

o   Treatment requires antibiotics +- topical steroids.


REFER once infection has resolved

  • Prepuceplasty or circumcision may be warranted





                                                Absolute       BXO phimosis

                                                                       Recurrent UTIs / balanoposthitis

                                                Relative         Recurrent / severe balanitis


  • Religious belief is not an indication for circumcision.
  • All procedures are performed as a daycase under a general anaesthetic (with local anaesthetic infiltration).



  • Hypospadias
  • Epispadias
  • Buried penis
  • Ambiguous genitalia


Surgical alternatives:

  • Prepuceplasty> In pubertal boys with healthy but non-retractile foreskins, that do not wish a circumcision.







  • All male term babies should have both testes lying within the scrotum.

o   Around 1.5-2% unfortunately do not.

  • ~30% of pre-term babies may have an undescended testis:

o   By 3 months testicular descent should have occurred.

  • Surgery for undescended testicle is a daycase procedure performed around the age of twelve months or at diagnosis if diagnosis occurs after age 1.
  • Paediatric Undescended testes do not require ultrasound confirmation and can be referred to the surgeons as per the guidelines.


REFER all suspected cases immediately


Risks from an undescended testis:

  • Reduced fertility
  • Increased malignancy risk (slightly improved with orchidopexy)
  • Risk of torsion
  • Risk of hernia




  • Some boys (normally 3 to 7 years) have a strong cremasteric reflex

o   The testes regularly retract into the inguinal canal.

  • The testes should be present in the scrotum for most of the time.

o   Check at bathtime.

  • Occasionally, this is related to a high scrotal position of the testis

o   ‘high retractile testis’


REFER those with recurrent / high retractile testes

  • Requires regular specialist assessment until it resolves.



  • Over time, some boys’ testes appear to ‘ascend’ from a normal scrotal position to lie within the inguinal canal.


REFER any suspected ascending testes



ORCHIDOPEXY: Surgically bringing the testis into the scrotum.

Common indications:

  • Palpable undescended testis
  • Persistently retractile testis
  • High retractile testis
  • Ascending testis

If bilaterally undescended it is normal practice to do both sides at the same operation unless good reasons exist for a staged approach. Testicles that are impalpable in the paediatric surgical clinic are referred on to the Bristol team who run regular Truro clinics.



  • Up to 5% of babies have a hydrocoele (fluid around testis) at birth.
  • From failure of the processus vaginalis to close, allowing fluid to ‘communicate’ with the abdominal cavity.
  • Classically: swelling increases during day and improves overnight.
  • Differential diagnosis of a patent processus vaginalis (ppv) includes: indirect hernia, hydrocele of the cord, and very rarely testicular tumour.
  • Most (~ 90%) communicating hydrocoeles resolve within a year.


REFER any suspected hydrocoele cases

  • Mainly to exclude other causes of scrotal swelling
  • Very rarely an USS is performed if diagnosis uncertain
  • Surgical intervention, to drain the hydrocele and ligate the ppv is commonly offered in those over two years old.



General Paediatric Surgery


  • Should be referred on the basis of parental history or examination findings.
  • Hernias in the groin found incidentally on USS that are not clinically apparent do not usually need surgery.
  • Operation is booked on an urgent basis regardless of age of child.



  • Very common in first year (10% of infants)
  • Most resolve spontaneously (85% of hernias resolve by age 1)
  • Strangulation/obstruction/pain very rare
  • No need for review unless skin over hernia threatened
  • Not usually repaired until age 4 at earliest


                     November 2021

Review Date:           November 2022

Authors:                  Mr Will Faux, Consultant Paediatric Surgeon, RCHT,  DR S Burns RMS GP


Version                                1.2