Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is a protein, which is present at low levels in the blood. It is widely recognised as a liver cancer marker as AFP levels can be elevated in the presence of a liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).
Other than detecting cancer, AFP is also used to screen pregnant women for developmental abnormalities in their foetus.
Causes of an elevated AFP level:
- Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)
- Germ cell cancers of the testis and ovary
- Severe liver damage (e.g. viral hepatitis)
- Chronic liver infections such as hepatitis C
An elevated AFP level should never be ignored. It may indicate the presence of a cancer. The most common cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma, a liver cancer. Hence, a Gastroenterologist is often consulted for this problem.
The work-up of an individual with an abnormal AFP includes a physical examination, blood tests for liver diseases, and a detailed liver scan such as a CT or MRI. If the liver is healthy, then the reproductive organs (testis or ovaries) may need to be checked.
Consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist,