Alpha Fetoprotein Test- Why am I having this test?
Alpha Fetoprotein test is most commonly used in pregnant women to help screen for birth defects in their unborn baby. It can be used to screen for birth defects, such as chromosome (DNA) abnormalities, problems with the brain or spinal cord, or problems with the abdominal wall of the unborn baby (fetus).
The alpha-fetoprotein test may also be done for men or non-pregnant women to check for certain cancers.
What is being tested?
This test measures the amount of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in your blood. AFP is a protein that is made by the liver. Levels can be detected in the mother’s blood during pregnancy, starting at 10 weeks and peaking at 16–18 weeks of the pregnancy. Abnormal levels can sometimes be a sign of a birth defect in the baby.
Certain cancers can cause a high level of AFP in men and non-pregnant women.
What kind of sample is taken?
A blood sample is required for this test. It is usually collected by inserting a needle into a blood vessel.
How are the results reported?
Your test results will be reported as values. Your health care provider will compare your results to normal ranges that were established after testing a large group of people (reference values). Reference values may vary among labs and hospitals. For this test, common reference values are:
- Adult: Less than 40 ng/mL or less than 40 mcg/L (SI units).
- Child younger than 1 year: Less than 30 ng/mL.
If you are pregnant, the values may also vary based on how long you have been pregnant.
What do the results mean?
Results that are above the reference values in pregnant women may indicate the following for the baby:
- Neural tube defects, such as abnormalities of the spinal cord or brain.
- Abdominal wall defects.
- Multiple pregnancy such as twins.
- Fetal distress or fetal death.
Results that are above the reference values in men or non-pregnant women may indicate:
- Reproductive cancers, such as ovarian or testicular cancer.
- Liver cancer.
- Liver cell death.
- Other types of cancer.
Very low levels of AFP in pregnant women may indicate the following for the baby:
- Down syndrome.
- Fetal death.
Talk with your health care provider about what your results mean.
Questions to ask your health care provider
Ask your health care provider, or the department that is doing the test:
- When will my results be ready?
- How will I get my results?
- What are my treatment options?
- What other tests do I need?
- What are my next steps?
- The alpha-fetoprotein test is done on pregnant women to help screen for birth defects in their unborn baby.
- Certain cancers can cause a high level of AFP in men and non-pregnant women.
- For this test, a blood sample is usually collected by inserting a needle into a blood vessel.
- Talk with your health care provider about what your results mean.