Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) Serum Test
The alpha-fetoprotein serum test may be performed if someone is suspected of having liver cancer, certain testicular, or ovarian cancers.
Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) in the blood can mean certain types of cancer in men, non-pregnant women, and children, in particular, testicular cancer, stomach, ovaries, pancreas, or liver. In Hodgkin's disease, brain tumors, lymphoma, and renal cell cancer, high levels of AFP can also be found.
The AFP test may be performed when:
- If someone is suspected of having liver cancer or certain testicular or ovarian cancers. Cancer may be suspected, for example, when lumps are felt in the abdominal area during a physical examination or when imaging tests detect possible tumors.
- When someone is diagnosed with and treated for liver, testes, or ovarian cancer and are being monitored for treatment effectiveness.
- Monitoring for cancer reoccurrence.
- Follow-up with chronic hepatitis or liver cirrhosis patients.
Higher levels of AFP may indicate cancer, most commonly liver, ovarian, or testicular cancer. Not every liver, ovarian or testicular cancer, however, will produce substantial amounts of AFP. Other diseases like cirrhosis and hepatitis may also lead to higher levels.
Declining concentrations of AFP show a response to therapy when using the test to monitor treatment. If after cancer treatment concentrations do not reduce considerably, generally to ordinary or near-normal levels, some tumor tissue may still be present.
If levels of AFP start to rise, then the chance of cancer recurring is probable. Since AFP in hepatitis or cirrhosis can be enhanced, concentrations of AFP can sometimes be misleading. If levels of AFP are not raised before therapy, then the test will usually not be helpful for monitoring therapy efficacy or monitoring for recurrence.
Please note that this test is not intended for prenatal screening to evaluate the risk of different birth defects.
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