Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) test

The AFP test measures how much alpha-fetoprotein is in your blood. Alpha-fetoprotein is a protein that is made by the liver and the yolk sac of a developing foetus. A small amount remains in your body throughout your life.

Why is it done?

During pregnancy, the AFP test is used to screen for things that may be wrong with the foetus. In New Zealand, this test is part of the maternal serum screening programme taken during weeks 14 and 18 of pregnancy.

In other situations, the AFP test can be used to monitor liver disease and test for certain types of cancer, including testicular, liver and brain. It can also be used to monitor cancer treatment and see if cancer has come back after treatment.

No preparation for the test is needed. It is a simple blood sample from your arm.

What are the risks?

There are no risks. However, if you sometimes feel light-headed, faint or bruise easily after blood tests, this will be no different.

Results – what do they mean?

An abnormal result in pregnancy can reveal a multiple pregnancy or a birth defect such as spina bifida, or a genetic disorder such as Down syndrome, foetal death or an inaccurate due date.

In others, the amount of AFP in your blood increases with liver disease and certain types of cancer.

Credits: Created by Health Navigator NZ August 2014.