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arxiv preprint

Tumor segmentation in oncological PET images is challenging, a major reason being the partial-volume effects that arise from low system resolution and a finite pixel size. The latter results in pixels containing more than one region, also referred to as tissue-fraction effects. Conventional classification-based segmentation approaches are inherently limited in accounting for the tissue-fraction effects. To address this limitation, we pose the segmentation task as an estimation problem. We propose a Bayesian method that estimates the posterior mean of the tumorfraction area within each pixel and uses these estimates to define the segmented tumor boundary. The method was implemented using an autoencoder. Quantitative evaluation of the method was performed using realistic simulation studies conducted in the context of segmenting the primary tumor in PET images of patients with lung cancer. For these studies, a framework was developed to generate clinically realistic simulated PET images. Realism of these images was quantitatively confirmed using a two-alternative-forced-choice study by six trained readers with expertise in reading PET scans. The evaluation studies demonstrated that the proposed segmentation method was accurate, significantly outperformed widely used conventional methods on the tasks of tumor segmentation and estimation of tumor-fraction areas, was relatively insensitive to partial-volume effects, and reliably estimated the ground-truth tumor boundaries. Further, these results were obtained across different clinical-scanner configurations. This proof-of-concept study demonstrates the efficacy of an estimation-based approach to PET segmentation.

Ziping Liu, Richard Laforest, Joyce Mhlanga, Hae Sol Moon, Tyler J. Fraum, Malak Itani, Aaron Mintz, Farrokh Dehdashti, Barry A. Siegel, Abhinav K. Jha