All-Around Real Label Supervision: Cyclic Prototype Consistency Learning for Semi-supervised Medical Image Segmentation

Semi-supervised learning has substantially advanced medical image segmentation since it alleviates the heavy burden of acquiring the costly expert-examined annotations. Especially, the consistency-based approaches have attracted more attention for their superior performance, wherein the real labels are only utilized to supervise their paired images via supervised loss while the unlabeled images are exploited by enforcing the perturbation-based \textit{"unsupervised"} consistency without explicit guidance from those real labels. However, intuitively, the expert-examined real labels contain more reliable supervision signals. Observing this, we ask an unexplored but interesting question: can we exploit the unlabeled data via explicit real label supervision for semi-supervised training? To this end, we discard the previous perturbation-based consistency but absorb the essence of non-parametric prototype learning. Based on the prototypical network, we then propose a novel cyclic prototype consistency learning (CPCL) framework, which is constructed by a labeled-to-unlabeled (L2U) prototypical forward process and an unlabeled-to-labeled (U2L) backward process. Such two processes synergistically enhance the segmentation network by encouraging more discriminative and compact features. In this way, our framework turns previous \textit{"unsupervised"} consistency into new \textit{"supervised"} consistency, obtaining the \textit{"all-around real label supervision"} property of our method. Extensive experiments on brain tumor segmentation from MRI and kidney segmentation from CT images show that our CPCL can effectively exploit the unlabeled data and outperform other state-of-the-art semi-supervised medical image segmentation methods.

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