To screen for and monitor therapy for certain cancers of the liver and testes
If your doctor suspects that you have certain cancers of the liver or testes, if you, have previously been treated for one of these cancers, or are under treatment for them, or if you have chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis
A blood sample drawn from a vein in the arm
AFP is a protein that is normally produced by the developing fetus. However, it can also be produced by certain tumours. Raised levels of AFP are found in the vast majority of patients with a type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma. It is also raised in some patients with cancer of the testis.
A blood sample is taken by needle from a vein in the arm.
AFP is used to detect certain cancers of the liver and testis. If a patient is diagnosed with one of these types of cancer, they will then undergo periodic testing for AFP to monitor their response to treatment. If you have chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver, your doctor may request AFP tests to detect hepatocellular carcinoma (a type of liver cancer).
(Please note that AFP is also used to in pregnant women to assess the risk of their baby having Down syndrome – in this case it is NOT being used to test for cancer (see also AFP maternal testing).
Your physician will request an AFP blood test if:
Increased AFP levels can be caused by liver cancer, germ cell tumour of the testis or less commonly other cancers (for example, stomach, bowel, lung, breast, lymphoma). Slightly increased levels of AFP are common in patients who have chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis. In these patients, an increase in AFP is more important than the actual numerical value of the test result.
In general, the higher the AFP level in patients with cancer, the bigger the tumour. AFP decreases when your body responds to anti-cancer therapy. If AFP does not return to normal within about one month after cancer therapy, some of the tumour may still be present.
This cancer usually occurs in people who have chronic scarring of the liver, called cirrhosis. Most commonly, this is caused by chronic infection from one of two viruses: hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Alcohol abuse also increases the risk of developing cirrhosis. Some inherited diseases, especially a disorder called haemochromatosis (in which the body absorbs too much iron), can cause cirrhosis and later hepatocellular carcinoma.
CEA, hCG, tumour markers
Conditions: Liver cancer, testicular cancer
RCPA Manual: Alpha fetoprotein
Last Review Date: July 14, 2013