Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) Blood Test

  • Medical Author:
    Tse-Ling Fong, MD

    Dr. Fong is the Medical Director of the USC Liver Transplant Program and Associate Professor of Medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Southern California and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and the subspecialty of Gastroenterology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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What is alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood test?

The most abundant plasma protein found in the human fetus is alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). AFP is a protein normally made by the immature liver cells in the fetus. At birth, infants have relatively high levels of AFP, which fall to normal adult levels by the first year of life. Also, pregnant women carrying babies with neural tube defects may have high levels of AFP in both the bloodstream and in the amniotic fluid. A neural tube defect is an abnormal fetal brain or spinal cord that is caused by folic acid deficiency during pregnancy. The test requires a blood sample.

In which situations are high blood levels of AFP seen in adults?

In adults, high blood levels (over 500 nanograms/milliliter [or ng/ml]) of AFP are seen in only a few situations:

  1. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)
  2. Germ cell tumors (cancer of the testes and ovaries)
  3. Ataxia telangiectasia
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/27/2015

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