Lymph Node Gross Tumor Volume Detection and Segmentation via Distance-based Gating using 3D CT/PET Imaging in Radiotherapy

Finding, identifying and segmenting suspicious cancer metastasized lymph nodes from 3D multi-modality imaging is a clinical task of paramount importance. In radiotherapy, they are referred to as Lymph Node Gross Tumor Volume (GTVLN). Determining and delineating the spread of GTVLN is essential in defining the corresponding resection and irradiating regions for the downstream workflows of surgical resection and radiotherapy of various cancers. In this work, we propose an effective distance-based gating approach to simulate and simplify the high-level reasoning protocols conducted by radiation oncologists, in a divide-and-conquer manner. GTVLN is divided into two subgroups of tumor-proximal and tumor-distal, respectively, by means of binary or soft distance gating. This is motivated by the observation that each category can have distinct though overlapping distributions of appearance, size and other LN characteristics. A novel multi-branch detection-by-segmentation network is trained with each branch specializing on learning one GTVLN category features, and outputs from multi-branch are fused in inference. The proposed method is evaluated on an in-house dataset of $141$ esophageal cancer patients with both PET and CT imaging modalities. Our results validate significant improvements on the mean recall from $72.5\%$ to $78.2\%$, as compared to previous state-of-the-art work. The highest achieved GTVLN recall of $82.5\%$ at $20\%$ precision is clinically relevant and valuable since human observers tend to have low sensitivity (around $80\%$ for the most experienced radiation oncologists, as reported by literature).

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