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In Journal of magnetic resonance imaging : JMRI

BACKGROUND : Previous studies have explored the potential on radiomics features of primary breast cancer tumor to identify axillary lymph node (ALN) metastasis. However, the value of deep learning (DL) to identify ALN metastasis remains unclear.

PURPOSE : To investigate the potential of the proposed attention-based DL model for the preoperative differentiation of ALN metastasis in breast cancer on dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI (DCE-MRI).

STUDY TYPE : Retrospective.

POPULATION : A total of 941 breast cancer patients who underwent DCE-MRI before surgery were included in the training (742 patients), internal test (83 patients), and external test (116 patients) cohorts.

FIELD STRENGTH/SEQUENCE : A 3.0 T MR scanner, DCE-MRI sequence.

ASSESSMENT : A DL model containing a 3D deep residual network (ResNet) architecture and a convolutional block attention module, named RCNet, was proposed for ALN metastasis identification. Three RCNet models were established based on the tumor, ALN, and combined tumor-ALN regions on the images. The performance of these models was compared with ResNet models, radiomics models, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) model, and three radiologists (W.L., H.S., and F. L.).

STATISTICAL TESTS : Dice similarity coefficient for breast tumor and ALN segmentation. Accuracy, sensitivity, specificity, intercorrelation and intracorrelation coefficients, area under the curve (AUC), and Delong test for ALN classification.

RESULTS : The optimal RCNet model, that is, RCNet-tumor+ALN , achieved an AUC of 0.907, an accuracy of 0.831, a sensitivity of 0.824, and a specificity of 0.837 in the internal test cohort, as well as an AUC of 0.852, an accuracy of 0.828, a sensitivity of 0.792, and a specificity of 0.853 in the external test cohort. Additionally, with the assistance of RCNet-tumor+ALN , the radiologists' performance was improved (external test cohort, P < 0.05).

DATA CONCLUSION : DCE-MRI-based RCNet model could provide a noninvasive auxiliary tool to identify ALN metastasis preoperatively in breast cancer, which may assist radiologists in conducting more accurate evaluation of ALN status.


Gao Jing, Zhong Xin, Li Wenjuan, Li Qin, Shao Huafei, Wang Zhongyi, Dai Yi, Ma Heng, Shi Yinghong, Zhang Han, Duan Shaofeng, Zhang Kun, Yang Ping, Zhao Feng, Zhang Haicheng, Xie Haizhu, Mao Ning


axillary lymph node, breast cancer, convolutional block attention module, deep learning, dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI