The amount of stroma within the primary tumor is a prognostic parameter for colon cancer patients. This phenomenon can be assessed using the tumor–stroma ratio (TSR), which classifies tumors in stroma-low (≤50% stroma) and stroma-high (>50% stroma). Although the reproducibility for TSR determination is good, improvement might be expected from automation. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the scoring of the TSR in a semi- and fully automated method using deep learning algorithms is feasible.
A series of 75 colon cancer slides were selected from a trial series of the UNITED study. For the standard determination of the TSR, 3 observers scored the histological slides. Next, the slides were digitized, color normalized, and the stroma percentages were scored using semi- and fully automated deep learning algorithms. Correlations were determined using intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) and Spearman rank correlations.
37 (49%) cases were classified as stroma-low and 38 (51%) as stroma-high by visual estimation. A high level of concordance between the 3 observers was reached, with ICCs of 0.91, 0.89, and 0.94 (all P<.001). Between visual and semi-automated assessment the ICC was 0.78 (95% CI 0.23–0.91, P-value 0.005), with a Spearman correlation of 0.88 (P<.001). Spearman correlation coefficients above 0.70 (N=3) were observed for visual estimation versus the fully automated scoring procedures.
Good correlations were observed between standard visual TSR determination and semi- and fully automated TSR scores. At this point, visual examination has the highest observer agreement, but semi-automated scoring could be helpful to support pathologists.