Context-aware stacked convolutional neural networks for classification of breast carcinomas in whole-slide histopathology images

B. Bejnordi, G. Zuidhof, M. Balkenhol, M. Hermsen, P. Bult, B. van Ginneken, N. Karssemeijer, G. Litjens and J. van der Laak

Journal of Medical Imaging (2017)



Currently, histopathological tissue examination by a pathologist represents the gold standard for breast lesion diagnostics. Automated classification of histopathological whole-slide images (WSIs) is challenging owing to the wide range of appearances of benign lesions and the visual similarity of ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS) to invasive lesions at the cellular level. Consequently, analysis of tissue at high resolutions with a large contextual area is necessary. We present context-aware stacked convolutional neural networks (CNN) for classification of breast WSIs into normal/benign, DCIS, and invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). We first train a CNN using high pixel resolution to capture cellular level information. The feature responses generated by this model are then fed as input to a second CNN, stacked on top of the first. Training of this stacked architecture with large input patches enables learning of fine-grained (cellular) details and global tissue structures. Our system is trained and evaluated on a dataset containing 221 WSIs of hematoxylin and eosin stained breast tissue specimens. The system achieves an AUC of 0.962 for the binary classification of nonmalignant and malignant slides and obtains a three-class accuracy of 81.3% for classification of WSIs into normal/benign, DCIS, and IDC, demonstrating its potential for routine diagnostics.

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