Automated detection of premalignant oral lesions on whole slide images using convolutional neural networks

Oral Oncol. 2022 Nov;134:106109. doi: 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2022.106109. Epub 2022 Sep 18.


Introduction: Oral epithelial dysplasia (OED) is a precursor lesion to oral squamous cell carcinoma, a disease with a reported overall survival rate of 56 percent across all stages. Accurate detection of OED is critical as progression to oral cancer can be impeded with complete excision of premalignant lesions. However, previous research has demonstrated that the task of grading of OED, even when performed by highly trained experts, is subject to high rates of reader variability and misdiagnosis. Thus, our study aims to develop a convolutional neural network (CNN) model that can identify regions suspicious for OED whole-slide pathology images.

Methods: During model development, we optimized key training hyperparameters including loss function on 112 pathologist annotated cases between the training and validation sets. Then, we compared OED segmentation and classification metrics between two well-established CNN architectures for medical imaging, DeepLabv3+ and UNet++. To further assess generalizability, we assessed case-level performance of a held-out test set of 44 whole-slide images.

Results: DeepLabv3+ outperformed UNet++ in overall accuracy, precision, and segmentation metrics in a 4-fold cross validation study. When applied to the held-out test set, our best performing DeepLabv3+ model achieved an overall accuracy and F1-Score of 93.3 percent and 90.9 percent, respectively.

Conclusion: The present study trained and implemented a CNN-based deep learning model for identification and segmentation of oral epithelial dysplasia (OED) with reasonable success. Computer assisted detection was shown to be feasible in detecting premalignant/precancerous oral lesions, laying groundwork for eventual clinical implementation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / diagnostic imaging
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Precancerous Conditions* / diagnosis