Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) Test
An AFP test is a blood test that determines the amount of AFP (alpha-fetoprotein) in a blood sample. It is usually used to diagnose some types of cancer and assess how effective treatment works.
This test cannot be used to screen or diagnose cancer on its own. This is because other disorders,such as non-cancerous liver diseases , can increase AFP levels. Some people with liver, ovarian, or testicular cancer will have normal AFP levels. As a result, an AFP tumor marker test cannot definitively rule out cancer. However, when combined with other tests and inspections, AFP tumor marker testing can aid in diagnosing and monitoring cancers that cause high AFP levels.
What is it used for?
An AFP tumor marker test may be utilized to diagnose and treat cancers of the liver, ovaries, or testicles that produce high amounts of AFP. It is used to:
- Help confirm or rule out cancer, when used with other examinations and testing.
- Predict the behavior of cancer throughout time.
- Keep track of the cancer therapy. AFP levels frequently rise when cancer develops and fall when treatment is effective.
- Examine whether cancer has returned after treatment.
In some cases, the results of the AFP tumor marker test may be used to guide treatment decisions for certain forms of cancer. If you have chronic (long-term) hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver, the test may also be performed to monitor your health. These conditions aren't cancer, but they raise the chances of developing it.
What is the purpose of an AFP tumor marker test?
One may require an AFP tumor marker test if you have the following:
- A physical exam and other tests indicate you may have liver, ovarian, or testicular cancer.
- You are currently undergoing treatment for cancer that causes high AFP levels. Monitoring the AFP test might reveal how effective the treatment is.
- Individuals have completed cancer therapy, which increased the AFP level. You may require an AFP tumor marker test from time to time to determine whether your cancer has returned.
You are more likely to get liver cancer with chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis. A very high AFP level or a fast increase may indicate liver cancer early. Most medical authorities do not recommend testing AFP levels in these disorders for screening for cancer. Even so, some doctors may still employ an AFP tumor marker test in combination with other tests to screen for liver cancer.
What happens during an AFP tumor marker test?
A healthcare professional will use a tiny needle to take blood from a vein in the arm. After the insertion of the needle, a little amount of blood will be collected in a test tube or vial. When the needle goes in or out, you may feel a slight sting. This usually takes under five minutes.
How to prepare for the test?
An AFP tumor marker test requires no specific preparation.
What do the results mean?
If you haven't had a cancer diagnosis, test results show:
- High levels of AFP may indicate liver,ovarian, or testicular cancer. However, having a high AFP level does not imply that you have or will get cancer. High AFP levels can also be caused by liver damage and non-cancerous liver disorders. High levels of AFP may be a marker of other malignancies, such as lymphoma or lung cancer, less frequently. The provider will establish a diagnosis based on the medical history and other test results.
- Normal AFP levels indicate that you are less likely to get cancer that causes high AFP levels. A normal test result, on the other hand, does not rule out cancer because some individuals with these cancers have normal AFP levels.
If you are being treated for cancer that has caused an increase in your AFP levels, you may be tested multiple times during your therapy. The doctor will review the previous AFP test results to determine how the levels have changed. If the results indicate:
- If your AFP levels are rising, it could indicate that the treatment isn't working.
- If your AFP levels are falling, it could indicate that the treatment is working.
- If your AFP levels have remained constant, it may indicate that the condition is stable and has not progressed.
If you have completed cancer treatment that resulted in elevated AFP levels and the test results are:
- This is not normal and may indicate that you still have cancer in the body.
- Higher than they were shortly after treatment, this could indicate that cancer has returned.
If you have a long-term liver disease that isn't cancer, you may require additional testing to rule out liver cancer if the AFP levels suddenly rise or are extremely high. Discuss with the health provider the implications of the test results for your health.