Tumor / Cancer screening tests

Alpha Fetoprotein (AFP)

Optimal Result: 0 - 8.3 U/mL.

Other names: total AFP, alpha-fetoprotein-L3 Percent

Healthy adults should have very low levels of AFP.

AFP stands for alpha-fetoprotein. It is a protein made in the liver of a developing baby. AFP levels are usually high when a baby is born, but fall to very low levels by the age of 1. An AFP tumor marker test is a blood test that measures the levels of AFP in adults. Tumor markers are substances made by cancer cells or by normal cells in response to cancer in the body.

What is it used for?

An AFP tumor marker test may be used to:

- Help confirm or rule out a diagnosis of liver cancer or cancer of the ovaries or testicles.
- Monitor cancer treatment. AFP levels often go up if cancer is spreading and go down when treatment is working.
- See if cancer has returned after treatment.
- Monitor the health of people with cirrhosis or hepatitis.

Why do I need an AFP tumor marker test?
You may need an AFP tumor marker test if a physical exam and/or other tests show there is a chance you have liver cancer or cancer of the ovaries or testicles. Your provider may order an AFP test to help confirm or rule out the results of other tests.

You may also need this test if you are currently being treated for one of these cancers, or recently completed treatment. The test can help your provider see if your treatment is working or if your cancer has come back after treatment.

In addition, you may need this test if you have a noncancerous liver disease. Certain liver diseases can put you at a higher risk of getting liver cancer.

What does it mean if your Alpha Fetoprotein (AFP) result is too high?

If your results show high levels of AFP, it may confirm a diagnosis of liver cancer, or cancer of the ovaries or testicles. Sometimes, high levels of AFP can be a sign of other cancers, including Hodgkin disease and lymphoma, or noncancerous liver disorders.

If you are being treated for cancer, you may be tested several times throughout your treatment. After repeated tests, your results may show:

- Your AFP levels are increasing. This may mean your cancer is spreading, and/or your treatment is not working.
- Your AFP levels are decreasing. This may mean your treatment is working.
- Your AFP levels have not increased or decreased. This may mean your disease is stable.
- Your AFP levels decreased, but then later increased. This may mean your cancer has come back after you've been treated.

High levels of AFP can be a sign of:

- liver cancer

- cancer of the ovaries

- cancer of the testicles

- as well as noncancerous liver diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatitis.

High AFP levels don't always mean cancer, and normal levels don't always rule out cancer. So an AFP tumor marker test is not usually used by itself to screen for or diagnose cancer. But it can help diagnose cancer when used with other tests. The test may also be used to help monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatment and to see if cancer has returned after you've finished treatment.

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