Predicting primary site of secondary liver cancer with a neural estimator of metastatic origin

Geoffrey F. Schau, Erik A. Burlingame, Guillaume Thibault, Tauangtham Anekpuritanang, Ying Wang, Joe W. Gray, Christopher Corless, Young H. Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Purpose: Pathologists rely on relevant clinical information, visual inspection of stained tissue slide morphology, and sophisticated molecular diagnostics to accurately infer the biological origin of secondary metastatic cancer. While highly effective, this process is expensive in terms of time and clinical resources. We seek to develop and evaluate a computer vision system designed to reasonably infer metastatic origin of secondary liver cancer directly from digitized histopathological whole slide images of liver biopsy. Approach: We illustrate a two-stage deep learning approach to accomplish this task. We first train a model to identify spatially localized regions of cancerous tumor within digitized hematoxylin and eosin (H&E)-stained tissue sections of secondary liver cancer based on a pathologist's annotation of several whole slide images. Then, a second model is trained to generate predictions of the cancers' metastatic origin belonging to one of three distinct clinically relevant classes as confirmed by immunohistochemistry. Results: Our approach achieves a classification accuracy of 90.2% in determining metastatic origin of whole slide images from a held-out test set, which compares favorably to an established clinical benchmark by three board-certified pathologists whose accuracies ranged from 90.2% to 94.1% on the same prediction task. Conclusions: We illustrate the potential impact of deep learning systems to leverage morphological and structural features of H&E-stained tissue sections to guide pathological and clinical determination of the metastatic origin of secondary liver cancers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number012706
JournalJournal of Medical Imaging
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • cancer
  • deep learning
  • digital pathology
  • liver
  • metastasis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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