Segmentation of lung lesions on CT scans using watershed, active contours, and Markov random field

Med Phys. 2013 Apr;40(4):043502. doi: 10.1118/1.4793409.


Purpose: Lung lesions vary considerably in size, density, and shape, and can attach to surrounding anatomic structures such as chest wall or mediastinum. Automatic segmentation of the lesions poses a challenge. This work communicates a new three-dimensional algorithm for the segmentation of a wide variety of lesions, ranging from tumors found in patients with advanced lung cancer to small nodules detected in lung cancer screening programs.

Methods: The authors' algorithm uniquely combines the image processing techniques of marker-controlled watershed, geometric active contours as well as Markov random field (MRF). The user of the algorithm manually selects a region of interest encompassing the lesion on a single slice and then the watershed method generates an initial surface of the lesion in three dimensions, which is refined by the active geometric contours. MRF improves the segmentation of ground glass opacity portions of part-solid lesions. The algorithm was tested on an anthropomorphic thorax phantom dataset and two publicly accessible clinical lung datasets. These clinical studies included a same-day repeat CT (prewalk and postwalk scans were performed within 15 min) dataset containing 32 lung lesions with one radiologist's delineated contours, and the first release of the Lung Image Database Consortium (LIDC) dataset containing 23 lung nodules with 6 radiologists' delineated contours. The phantom dataset contained 22 phantom nodules of known volumes that were inserted in a phantom thorax.

Results: For the prewalk scans of the same-day repeat CT dataset and the LIDC dataset, the mean overlap ratios of lesion volumes generated by the computer algorithm and the radiologist(s) were 69% and 65%, respectively. For the two repeat CT scans, the intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC) was 0.998, indicating high reliability of the algorithm. The mean relative difference was -3% for the phantom dataset.

Conclusions: The performance of this new segmentation algorithm in delineating tumor contour and measuring tumor size illustrates its potential clinical value for assisting in noninvasive diagnosis of pulmonary nodules, therapy response assessment, and radiation treatment planning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Markov Chains*
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated / methods*
  • Radiographic Image Enhancement / methods
  • Radiographic Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*