Synthesis of diagnostic quality cancer pathology images by generative adversarial networks

J Pathol. 2020 Oct;252(2):178-188. doi: 10.1002/path.5509. Epub 2020 Sep 8.


Deep learning-based computer vision methods have recently made remarkable breakthroughs in the analysis and classification of cancer pathology images. However, there has been relatively little investigation of the utility of deep neural networks to synthesize medical images. In this study, we evaluated the efficacy of generative adversarial networks to synthesize high-resolution pathology images of 10 histological types of cancer, including five cancer types from The Cancer Genome Atlas and the five major histological subtypes of ovarian carcinoma. The quality of these images was assessed using a comprehensive survey of board-certified pathologists (n = 9) and pathology trainees (n = 6). Our results show that the real and synthetic images are classified by histotype with comparable accuracies and the synthetic images are visually indistinguishable from real images. Furthermore, we trained deep convolutional neural networks to diagnose the different cancer types and determined that the synthetic images perform as well as additional real images when used to supplement a small training set. These findings have important applications in proficiency testing of medical practitioners and quality assurance in clinical laboratories. Furthermore, training of computer-aided diagnostic systems can benefit from synthetic images where labeled datasets are limited (e.g. rare cancers). We have created a publicly available website where clinicians and researchers can attempt questions from the image survey ( © 2020 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords: artificial intelligence; cancer; deep learning; education; pathology; quality assurance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Deep Learning*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Pathology, Clinical / methods*