Prognostic value of automatically extracted nuclear morphometric features in whole slide images of male breast cancer

Mod Pathol. 2012 Dec;25(12):1559-65. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2012.126. Epub 2012 Aug 17.


Numerous studies have shown the prognostic significance of nuclear morphometry in breast cancer patients. Wide acceptance of morphometric methods has, however, been hampered by the tedious and time consuming nature of the manual segmentation of nuclei and the lack of equipment for high throughput digitization of slides. Recently, whole slide imaging became more affordable and widely available, making fully digital pathology archives feasible. In this study, we employ an automatic nuclei segmentation algorithm to extract nuclear morphometry features related to size and we analyze their prognostic value in male breast cancer. The study population comprised 101 male breast cancer patients for whom survival data was available (median follow-up of 5.7 years). Automatic segmentation was performed on digitized tissue microarray slides, and for each patient, the mean nuclear area and the standard deviation of the nuclear area were calculated. In univariate survival analysis, a significant difference was found between patients with low and high mean nuclear area (P=0.022), while nuclear atypia score did not provide prognostic value. In Cox regression, mean nuclear area had independent additional prognostic value (P=0.032) to tumor size and tubule formation. In conclusion, we present an automatic method for nuclear morphometry and its application in male breast cancer prognosis. The automatically extracted mean nuclear area proved to be a significant prognostic indicator. With the increasing availability of slide scanning equipment in pathology labs, these kinds of quantitative approaches can be easily integrated in the workflow of routine pathology practice.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / mortality
  • Adenocarcinoma / secondary*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast Neoplasms, Male / mortality
  • Breast Neoplasms, Male / pathology*
  • Cell Nucleus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Prognosis
  • Survival Rate