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 initially to monitor their response to treatment, usually followed by long-term monitoring to detect any recurrence of the cancer. 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) which may follow in the future.
(Please note that AFP is also used in pregnant women to assess the risk of their baby having Down's syndrome – in this case it is NOT being used to test for cancer -see AFP/maternal testing).
In general, the higher the AFP level in patients with cancer, the bigger the tumour or spread if there are liver secondaries. 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.
An increase in AFP after remission suggests recurrence of the tumour. However, tumours originally producing AFP may recur without an increase in AFP concentration.
This article was last reviewed on 30 December 2015. | This article was last modified on 30 December 2015.
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