The aim of this study is to evaluate the role of convolutional neural network (CNN) in predicting axillary lymph node metastasis, using a breast MRI dataset. An institutional review board (IRB)-approved retrospective review of our database from 1/2013 to 6/2016 identified 275 axillary lymph nodes for this study. Biopsy-proven 133 metastatic axillary lymph nodes and 142 negative control lymph nodes were identified based on benign biopsies (100) and from healthy MRI screening patients (42) with at least 3 years of negative follow-up. For each breast MRI, axillary lymph node was identified on first T1 post contrast dynamic images and underwent 3D segmentation using an open source software platform 3D Slicer. A 32 × 32 patch was then extracted from the center slice of the segmented tumor data. A CNN was designed for lymph node prediction based on each of these cropped images. The CNN consisted of seven convolutional layers and max-pooling layers with 50% dropout applied in the linear layer. In addition, data augmentation and L2 regularization were performed to limit overfitting. Training was implemented using the Adam optimizer, an algorithm for first-order gradient-based optimization of stochastic objective functions, based on adaptive estimates of lower-order moments. Code for this study was written in Python using the TensorFlow module (1.0.0). Experiments and CNN training were done on a Linux workstation with NVIDIA GTX 1070 Pascal GPU. Two class axillary lymph node metastasis prediction models were evaluated. For each lymph node, a final softmax score threshold of 0.5 was used for classification. Based on this, CNN achieved a mean five-fold cross-validation accuracy of 84.3%. It is feasible for current deep CNN architectures to be trained to predict likelihood of axillary lymph node metastasis. Larger dataset will likely improve our prediction model and can potentially be a non-invasive alternative to core needle biopsy and even sentinel lymph node evaluation.
Keywords: Axillary metastasis; CNN; MRI.