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In European radiology ; h5-index 62.0

OBJECTIVES : To evaluate if radiomics with machine learning can differentiate between F-18-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG)-avid breast cancer metastatic lymphadenopathy and FDG-avid COVID-19 mRNA vaccine-related axillary lymphadenopathy.

MATERIALS AND METHODS : We retrospectively analyzed FDG-positive, pathology-proven, metastatic axillary lymph nodes in 53 breast cancer patients who had PET/CT for follow-up or staging, and FDG-positive axillary lymph nodes in 46 patients who were vaccinated with the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. Radiomics features (110 features classified into 7 groups) were extracted from all segmented lymph nodes. Analysis was performed on PET, CT, and combined PET/CT inputs. Lymph nodes were randomly assigned to a training (n = 132) and validation cohort (n = 33) by 5-fold cross-validation. K-nearest neighbors (KNN) and random forest (RF) machine learning models were used. Performance was evaluated using an area under the receiver-operator characteristic curve (AUC-ROC) score.

RESULTS : Axillary lymph nodes from breast cancer patients (n = 85) and COVID-19-vaccinated individuals (n = 80) were analyzed. Analysis of first-order features showed statistically significant differences (p < 0.05) in all combined PET/CT features, most PET features, and half of the CT features. The KNN model showed the best performance score for combined PET/CT and PET input with 0.98 (± 0.03) and 0.88 (± 0.07) validation AUC, and 96% (± 4%) and 85% (± 9%) validation accuracy, respectively. The RF model showed the best result for CT input with 0.96 (± 0.04) validation AUC and 90% (± 6%) validation accuracy.

CONCLUSION : Radiomics features can differentiate between FDG-avid breast cancer metastatic and FDG-avid COVID-19 vaccine-related axillary lymphadenopathy. Such a model may have a role in differentiating benign nodes from malignant ones.

KEY POINTS : • Patients who were vaccinated with the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine have shown FDG-avid reactive axillary lymph nodes in PET-CT scans. • We evaluated if radiomics and machine learning can distinguish between FDG-avid metastatic axillary lymphadenopathy in breast cancer patients and FDG-avid reactive axillary lymph nodes. • Combined PET and CT radiomics data showed good test AUC (0.98) for distinguishing between metastatic axillary lymphadenopathy and post-COVID-19 vaccine-associated axillary lymphadenopathy. Therefore, the use of radiomics may have a role in differentiating between benign from malignant FDG-avid nodes.

Eifer Michal, Pinian Hodaya, Klang Eyal, Alhoubani Yousef, Kanana Nayroz, Tau Noam, Davidson Tima, Konen Eli, Catalano Onofrio A, Eshet Yael, Domachevsky Liran


Breast cancer, COVID-19 vaccine, Lymphadenopathy, Machine learning, PET-CT