How is the alpha-fetoprotein test used in diagnosing liver cancer?


Quick Answer

Doctors use the alpha-fetoprotein test to diagnose liver cancer by measuring the amount of alpha-fetoprotein in the blood, according to Healthline. Adult men and nonpregnant women tend to have little of the substance. If the patient isn't pregnant, an elevated level can indicate liver cancer, as well as other cancers and liver conditions.

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Full Answer

The alpha-fetoprotein test involves a technician drawing a blood sample from a patient's arm, Healthline explains. A lab determines how much alpha-fetoprotein is in the sample. In nonpregnant women and men, the normal level is less than 40 micrograms per liter of blood. If the level is above 40 micrograms, the patient may have cancer or liver disease.

In addition to helping diagnose and monitor liver cancer, the alpha-fetoprotein test can indicate hepatitis or cirrhosis, Healthline reports. The test also helps diagnose other cancers, including those of the pancreas, stomach, testes, ovaries and biliary tract.

Most patients have no adverse effects from the alpha-fetoprotein test, Healthline maintains. Sometimes, patients experience soreness at the puncture site or feel faint. Occasionally, patients report excessive bleeding or a hematoma, a condition that develops when blood pools underneath the skin. Another small risk is the possibility of infection at the puncture site.

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