Alpha Fetoprotein – AFP Test

AFP Test

Alpha Fetoprotein test- AFP Test. What exactly is an AFP tumor marker test, and why and when is it necessary? And what do the findings imply?

Alpha Fetoprotein test – AFP test- is a blood test that checks the level of alpha-fetoprotein in your blood. It is used to screen for certain cancers and track treatment responses. It is also used in pregnancy screening tests during the second trimester.

What is a tumor marker AFP test (alpha-fetoprotein)?

AFP is an abbreviation for alpha-fetoprotein. AFP is a protein produced by the embryonic yolk sac, and the fetal liver. When a baby is born, his or her AFP levels are usually high. but by the age of one year, they have dropped to very low levels. AFP levels in healthy adults should be very low.

The amount of AFP in a pregnant woman’s blood can help determine whether the baby has problems like spina bifida or anencephaly. AFP  is a screening test for chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome (trisomy 21) or Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18). An AFP test can be used as a screening test for an omphalocele, a congenital condition in which some of the baby’s intestines protrude through the belly wall.

An AFP tumor marker test is a blood test that determines AFP levels in adults. Tumor markers are substances produced in the body by malignant cells or normal cells in response to cancer. High levels of AFP blood test can indicate liver cancer, ovarian or testicular cancer, as well as noncancerous liver diseases like cirrhosis and hepatitis.

Brief Description of AFP test

Other names Total AFP, alpha-fetoprotein-L3 Percent, AFP-L3%, Serum AFP Tumor Marker
Test purpose Help with the diagnosis and monitoring of treatment for cancers of the liver, testicles, or ovaries.
preparation There is no need for any preparation
specimen Serum
Rejection Criteria Hemolysis
Reference Range
  • 0 ng/mL to 40 ng/mL is normal for adults.
  • > 400 ng/mL could be a sign of liver tumors.
Methodology Immunoenzymatic Assay

Purpose of AFP test

Alpha fetoprotein screening is a blood test that may be used to:

  1. Examine a pregnant woman’s developing baby for brain or spinal problems, or Down syndrome.
  2. Confirm or rule out a diagnosis of liver cancer, ovarian cancer, or testicular cancer.
  3. Keep track of cancer treatment. AFP levels frequently rise when cancer spreads and fall when treatment is effective.
  4. Check to see if the cancer has returned after treatment.
  5. People with cirrhosis or hepatitis should have their health checked on a regular basis.

Who requires the AFP test?

If a medical evaluation and/or other tests indicate that you may have liver cancer, ovarian cancer, or testicular cancer, you may require an AFP tumor marker test. An alpha fetoprotein test may be ordered to confirm or rule out the findings of other tests.

If you have been diagnosed with liver cancer, this test may be used to help determine the best treatment for you. Targeted therapy may be used to treat certain types of liver cancer associated with high AFP levels. Targeted therapy employs drugs or other substances that target specific cancer cells while causing minimal harm to normal cells.

In addition, if you have non-malignant liver disease, you may require this test. Certain liver diseases may raise your risk of developing liver cancer.

Maternal serum AFP is also included in the triple or quadruple screening tests for foetal anomaly.

AFP test preparation

In general, you will not need to prepare for this test. It is possible at any time of day. It is a simple blood test in which a sample of blood is drawn from a vein in your arm using a needle.

If you’re pregnant, you will be weighed just before the blood test because the results of the tests will be based on your weight. The results are also affected by your race, age, and the number of weeks you are pregnant.

Is there any risk in the test?

There is a very low chance that this test will perform badly. You may not feel anything from the needle when a blood sample is collected. A quick sting or pinch may also occur, and when a blood sample is taken a small bruise may form at the site.


Results Interpretation

In non-pregnant cases

High levels of AFP may confirm a diagnosis of liver cancer, ovarian or testicular cancer, or be a sign of other carcinomas, such as Hodgkin disease and lymphoma, or noncancerous liver disorders.
If you are undergoing cancer treatment, you may be tested several times during treatment. Your results may show the following after repeated tests:

  • If the AFP level is rising: This could indicate that your cancer is spreading or that your treatment isn’t working.
  • If the AFP levels are falling: This could indicate that your treatment is effective.
  • If the AFP levels have not risen or fallen. This may indicate that your disease is stable.
  • Finally, If AFP levels initially decreased, but then increased. This could indicate that your cancer has returned after treatment.

In pregnant cases

Beginning in the 14th week of pregnancy, the level of AFP gradually increases. It rises until a month or two before the woman gives birth, then gradually declines. To correctly understand the AFP value, an accurate estimate of the baby’s age is required.

High values

High alpha-fetoprotein levels in a pregnant woman can mean:

  • The child’s gestational age is incorrect.
  • The woman is expecting multiple children, such as twins or triplets.
  • The child was born with a neural tube defect.
  • The intestines or other abdominal organs of the baby are located outside the body (called an abdominal wall defect or omphalocele).
  • The baby is not alive.

Low values

A low level of AFP in a pregnant woman can indicate:

  • The baby’s gestational age is incorrect.
  • The fetus could have Down syndrome.

Related tests

In the case of non-pregnant adults

  • Hepatitis Panel
  • BRAF Genetic Test
  • CA 19-9 Blood Test (Pancreatic Cancer)
  • CA-125 Blood Test (Ovarian Cancer)
  • CEA Test
  • Tumor Marker Tests

In case of pregnancy

  • Amniocentesis
  • Hcg
  • Estriol
  • Inhibin-A

Not everyone with high AFP or AFP-L3% levels has or will develop hepatic cancer. The AFP and AFP-L3% test results are not diagnostic in and of themselves; rather, they serve as indicators. To look for tumor development, they must be used in combination with data from your medical history and physical examination, histopathological examination, and screening tests.

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