Alpha Fetoprotein, Tumor Marker

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The following is a list of what is included in the item above. Click the test(s) below to view what biomarkers are measured along with an explanation of what the biomarker is measuring.

Also known as: AFP, Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker, Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), Alphafetoprotein (AFP)

Alpha Fetoprotein,

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The Alpha Fetoprotein, Tumor Marker test contains 1 test with 1 biomarker.

Brief Description: The Alpha Fetoprotein (AFP) Tumor Marker test is a blood test that measures the levels of alpha fetoprotein in the blood. Alpha fetoprotein is a protein produced by the developing fetus, but its levels decrease significantly after birth. Elevated levels of AFP in adults can indicate the presence of certain cancers or other medical conditions.

Also Known As: Alpha-Fetoprotein Test, AFP Test, AFP Tumor Marker Test

Collection Method: Blood Draw

Specimen Type: Serum

Test Preparation: No preparation required

When is an Alpha-Fetoprotein test ordered?

An AFP blood test may be ordered by a healthcare provider:

  • When lumps are felt in the abdomen area during a physical exam or imaging tests discover probable tumors, it is likely that someone has liver cancer or certain malignancies of the testicles or ovaries.
  • When someone has been diagnosed with and treated for cancer of the liver, testicles, or ovaries, the success of treatment is being assessed.
  • When someone is being watched for a recurrence of cancer

What does an Alpha-Fetoprotein blood test check for?

Alpha-fetoprotein is a protein produced predominantly by the liver of a developing baby (fetus) and the yolk cavity of a developing embryo. When a baby is born, AFP levels are usually high and then rapidly drop. Liver injury and certain malignancies can drastically raise AFP levels. This test determines the amount of AFP in your blood.

When the liver cells regenerate, AFP is generated. AFP can be continuously high in chronic liver illnesses such hepatitis and cirrhosis. Certain cancers can produce extremely high quantities of AFP. Because of this, the AFP test can be used as a tumor marker. Many persons with hepatocellular carcinoma and hepatoblastoma, a kind of liver cancer that affects babies, have elevated levels of AFP. They're also discovered in certain persons who have testicular or ovarian cancer.

There are various different types of AFP. The normal AFP test measures total AFP, which includes all of the AFP variations. In the United States, this is the most common AFP test.

Lab tests often ordered with an Alpha-Fetoprotein test:

When an AFP test is ordered in the context of cancer screening or monitoring, it's often part of a broader evaluation of liver health and cancer diagnosis. Here are some tests commonly ordered alongside it:

  1. Liver Function Test:

    • Purpose: To assess liver health.
    • Why Is It Ordered: To evaluate liver function and to help differentiate liver cancer from other liver diseases such as cirrhosis or hepatitis.
  2. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C Tests:

    • Purpose: To test for hepatitis B and C viruses.
    • Why Is It Ordered: Chronic hepatitis B and C are risk factors for the development of hepatocellular carcinoma.
  3. Complete Blood Count (CBC):

    • Purpose: To evaluate overall blood health.
    • Why Is It Ordered: To check for signs of anemia, infection, or other blood-related issues that can accompany liver cancer.
  4. Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA) and CA 19-9:

    • Purpose: To measure levels of other tumor markers.
    • Why Is It Ordered: To help in the diagnosis and monitoring of certain types of cancers, especially if there's a suspicion of metastasis or differentiation from other gastrointestinal cancers.
  5. Kidney Function Test:

    • Purpose: To evaluate kidney function.
    • Why Is It Ordered: To ensure proper kidney function, especially before certain imaging tests or treatments that may impact the kidneys.
  6. Prothrombin Time (PT) and International Normalized Ratio (INR):

    • Purpose: To assess blood clotting.
    • Why Is It Ordered: Liver disease can impact blood clotting factors, and this test can be important in evaluating liver function and before surgical procedures.
  7. Beta-HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin):

    • Purpose: To measure levels of beta-HCG, a hormone produced by some cancers.
    • Why Is It Ordered: In cases of germ cell tumors, beta-HCG, along with AFP, can help in diagnosis and monitoring.

These tests, when ordered alongside an AFP Tumor Marker test, provide a comprehensive assessment of liver health, contribute to the diagnosis and staging of liver cancer, and aid in monitoring treatment response. They are crucial for guiding the management of patients with liver cancer or those at high risk for developing it. The specific combination of tests will depend on the individual’s symptoms, risk factors, and clinical presentation.

Conditions where an Alpha-Fetoprotein test is recommended:

  • Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC): AFP levels are elevated in most individuals with HCC, making it a valuable diagnostic marker for liver cancer.
  • Nonseminomatous Testicular Germ Cell Tumors: Elevated AFP levels are seen in these types of testicular cancers.

How does my health care provider use an Alpha-Fetoprotein test?

The tumor marker alpha-fetoprotein is used to detect and diagnose malignancies of the liver, testicles, and ovaries. Despite the fact that the test is frequently done to monitor persons with chronic liver illnesses including cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis B, or hepatitis C who have an elevated lifetime risk of developing liver cancer, most current guidelines do not advocate it. An AFP test, together with imaging studies, may be ordered by a healthcare provider to try to diagnose liver cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages.

If a person has been diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma or another type of AFP-producing cancer, an AFP test may be done on a regular basis to assess treatment response and disease recurrence.

What do my Alpha-fetoprotein test results mean?

Increased AFP levels can suggest the presence of cancer, such as liver cancer, ovarian cancer, or testicular germ cell tumors. However, not all cancers of the liver, ovary, or testicles produce substantial amounts of AFP.

Other malignancies, such as stomach, colon, lung, breast, and lymphoma, might sometimes have elevated levels, but it is rarely ordered to check these illnesses. Cirrhosis and hepatitis are two disorders that can generate elevated levels.

When using AFP as a monitoring tool, lower levels suggest a therapeutic response. If concentrations do not considerably drop after cancer therapy, usually to normal or near-normal levels, some tumor tissue may still be present.

If AFP levels start to rise, the cancer is most likely to return. However, because AFP levels can be deceiving in hepatitis or cirrhosis, AFP levels can be misleading. If AFP levels are not raised prior to therapy, the test will not be useful in monitoring treatment effectiveness or detecting recurrence.

Most Common Questions About the Alpha Fetoprotein Tumer Marker test:

Clinical Utility and Interpretation

What is the Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker test, and what is its main purpose?

The Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker test (AFP) is a blood test that measures the level of AFP in an adult's blood. AFP is a protein normally produced by the liver and yolk sac of a fetus. In adults, an elevation in AFP may be a sign of liver tumors or certain other cancers.

How do healthcare providers interpret the results of the Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker test?

The interpretation of AFP levels depends on the context. Elevated levels might indicate liver disease, liver cancer, or other malignancies, but it's not diagnostic on its own. It's usually combined with other tests and medical information to determine the cause of the elevation.

Clinical Applications and Diagnoses

When might a healthcare provider recommend the Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker test?

A healthcare provider may recommend the AFP test if liver cancer is suspected, especially in individuals at higher risk, such as those with chronic liver diseases. It may also be part of a monitoring strategy for certain cancers to check treatment efficacy.

What cancers is the Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker test most associated with?

The AFP test is most commonly associated with liver cancer, particularly hepatocellular carcinoma. It can also be associated with germ cell tumors and, in rare cases, cancers in other organs such as the pancreas.

Comparative Insights

How does the Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker test compare to other liver cancer screening methods?

The AFP test is often used in conjunction with other diagnostic tools like ultrasound or CT scans. While the AFP test may provide early indications of liver cancer, it lacks specificity and sensitivity, so it's usually part of a broader diagnostic approach rather than a standalone test.

Understanding Limitations and Challenges

What are the limitations of the Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker test in diagnosing liver cancer?

The main limitations of the AFP test are its lack of specificity and sensitivity. Elevated AFP levels can occur in conditions other than cancer, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. Moreover, not all liver cancers cause elevated AFP levels, so a normal result does not rule out cancer.

Are there non-cancerous conditions that can affect the results of the Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker test?

Yes, various non-cancerous liver conditions can elevate AFP levels, such as liver cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis. Even some gastrointestinal diseases might lead to increased AFP levels. This is why the AFP test is used in combination with other diagnostic tools.

Additional Questions and Insights

What role does the Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker test play in monitoring treatment for liver cancer?

The AFP test may be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment for liver cancer. A decreasing AFP level might indicate that treatment is working, while stable or increasing levels might suggest a lack of response or recurrence.

How might the Alpha Fetoprotein Tumor Marker test be utilized in liver transplantation evaluations?

In the context of liver transplantation, especially for hepatocellular carcinoma, AFP levels might be used to assess the severity and stage of the cancer. Elevated AFP levels may influence transplantation eligibility and prioritization. However, it's just one factor among many that are considered in the evaluation process.

We advise having your results reviewed by a licensed medical healthcare professional for proper interpretation of your results.

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