What Are Alpha-Fetoprotein Tumor Markers?


Quick Answer

Alpha-fetoprotein tumor markers are molecules in blood that can indicate the presence of liver cancer, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. High levels of alpha-fetoprotein can indicate that a patient has testicular, brain or blood cancers as well as additional medical disorders.

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Full Answer

A doctor may order a test to detect alpha-fetoprotein tumor markers if she suspects the patient has liver cancer or to detect whether cancer has recurred, the University of Rochester Medical Center explains. Looking at the number of markers can also indicate if cancer treatment has been effective.

Not all patients with high levels of alpha-fetoprotein tumor markers have liver cancer. A high level may indicate other liver diseases, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis, but it can also indicate other cancers, such as kidney, lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease, notes the University of Rochester Medical Center. In addition to alpha-fetoprotein, other tumor markers also appear in the blood; they include lactate dehydrogenase and human chorionic gonadotropin.

In addition to looking for alpha-fetoprotein tumor markers, doctors may also order additional tests that help to diagnose liver disease, the University of Rochester Medical Center reports. These include a liver function test, which looks for substances in the blood that indicate how well the liver works. Doctors may also look for viral hepatitis B and C, which have links to liver cancer.

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