Alpha fetoprotein (AFP) is a protein normally produced by the liver and yolk sac of a developing baby during pregnancy. AFP levels decrease soon after birth. AFP probably has no normal function in adults.
A test can be done to measure the amount of AFP in your blood.
Fetal alpha globulin; AFP
How the test is performed
A blood sample is needed. For information on how this is done, see:
How to prepare for the test
There is no special preparation.
How the test will feel
When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.
Why the test is performed
Your doctor may order this test to:
- Screen for problems in the baby during pregnancy
- Diagnose certain liver disorders
- Screen for and monitor some cancers
During pregnancy, this AFP test can be done along with
The normal values in males or nonpregnant females is generally less than 40 micrograms/liter.
The examples above are common measurements for results of these tests. Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
What abnormal results mean
Greater than normal levels of AFP may be due to:
Cancerin testes, ovaries, biliary (liver secretion) tract, stomach, or pancreas Cirrhosis of the liver Liver cancer Malignant teratoma Recovery from hepatitis
During pregnancy, abnormal levels of AFP (as part of a quadruple screen) may be due to:
- Birth defects, including:
atresia Gastroschisis Omphalocele Spina bifida Tetralogy of Fallot Turner syndrome
- Genetic disorders, including Down syndrome
- Inaccurate due date
- Intrauterine death (usually results in a
- Multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets, etc.)
What the risks are
Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.
Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:
- Excessive bleeding
- Fainting or feeling lightheaded
- Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
- Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)