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Development and validation of 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET/CT-based radiomics model to detect primary prostate cancer



This study aimed to develop a novel analytic approach based on a radiomics model derived from 68Ga-prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA)-11 PET/CT for predicting intraprostatic lesions in patients with prostate cancer (PCa).


This retrospective study included consecutive patients with or without PCa who underwent surgery or biopsy after 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET/CT. A total of 944 radiomics features were extracted from the images. A radiomics model was constructed using the least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) algorithm with tenfold cross-validation in the training set. PET/CT images for the test set were reviewed by experienced nuclear medicine radiologists. The sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, negative predictive value, and area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) were calculated for the model and radiologists’ results. The AUCs were compared.


The total of 125 patients (86 PCa, 39 benign prostate disease [BPD]) included 87 (61 PCa, 26 BPD) in the training set and 38 (61 PCa, 26 BPD) in the test set. Nine features were selected to construct the radiomics model. The model score differed between PCa and BPD in the training and test sets (both P < 0.001). In the test set, the radiomics model performed better than the radiologists’ assessment (AUC, 0.85 [95% confidence interval 0.73, 0.97] vs. 0.63 [0.47, 0.79]; P = 0.036) and showed higher sensitivity (model vs radiologists, 0.84 [0.63, 0.95] vs. 0.74 [0.53, 0.88]; P = 0.002).


Radiomics analysis based on 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET may non-invasively predict intraprostatic lesions in patients with PCa.


Prostate cancer (PCa) is one of the most common cancers and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men worldwide [1]. Transrectal ultrasound-guided biopsy is currently a standard method for making a definitive diagnosis in patients with suspected PCa based on an elevated prostate-specific antigen level and/or an abnormal digital rectal examination [2]. However, traditional 10-core or 12-core systematic biopsy could fail to detect some cases of PCa and may incorrectly grade the tumor because of down-staging [2, 3]. In addition, prostate biopsy may be associated with notable side effects, including bleeding, pain, and infection. A non-invasive imaging approach for detecting PCa is thus an attractive prospect, to spare patients from unnecessary biopsies and overtreatment.

Prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) is a highly specific prostatic epithelial cell transmembrane protein that is highly expressed in most primary PCa [4, 5]. 68Ga-labeled PSMA inhibitors have been explored and translated successfully for the clinical diagnosis of PCa in the last decade [6, 7]. 68Ga-PSMA-11 has been proposed for use in positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) examinations among patients with primary PCa, and has demonstrated higher sensitivity and specificity than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for the detection of both intraprostatic tumor focal lesions and metastasis [8,9,10]. However, PSMA PET/CT imaging data are usually analyzed manually by nuclear medicine specialists, based on experience, which is challenging. Notably, significant numbers of intraprostatic lesions might be missed by visual PET-image interpretation due to their small size or configuration [11]. Quantitative measures of PSMA expression are therefore necessary to allow risk stratification of patients with primary PCa.

Radiomics is an attractive approach that converts medical images into mineable high-dimensional data via the high-throughput extraction of abundant imaging features [12, 13]. These features include a variety of gene expression types that provide a more comprehensive description of the tumor characteristics, thus enabling researchers to obtain an effective signature to inform objective clinical decisions [14,15,16,17]. However, the predictive value of 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET/CT radiomics in patients with PCa has not been widely investigated.

We therefore aimed to perform a comprehensive analysis and develop a radiomics model based on 68Ga-PSMA PET/CT, and evaluate its diagnostic performance for the non-invasive prediction of PCa.


Patients and study design

Eligible consecutive patients who underwent 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET/CT between February 2019 and May 2021 were retrospectively enrolled in this study. The inclusion criteria were: (1) pathologically proven PCa or biopsy-proven benign prostate disease (BPD) with a follow-up of at least 6 months, the biopsy was performed utilizing a 12-core extended scheme under the guidance of transrectal ultrasonography, without consideration of PET/CT; (2) 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET/CT examination performed within 1 month before surgery or biopsy; and (3) no anti-tumor treatment received before PET/CT examination. Patients with positive regional lymph node were included in case they had surgery, while those with distant metastasis were excluded for their unavailable surgery specimen. Patients were divided randomly into a training set and test set at a ratio of 7:3. Pathologically proven PCa from radical prostatectomy was used as reference standard and dichotomized for radiomics model classification and radiologist assessment.

PET/CT acquisition and visual assessment

All patients underwent PET/CT using a dedicated PET/CT system (United Imaging, uMI780, China) at 60 ± 5 min after intravenous injection of 2–2.3 MBq/kg 68Ga-PSMA-11 synthesized as previously described [18]. A non-enhanced CT scan (120 kV, mA modulation, pitch 0.988, slice thickness 3.0 mm, increment 1.5 mm) was obtained followed by a whole-body PET scan (3 min/bed, field of view 60 cm) in 3D mode (matrix 256 × 256) from the vertex to the proximal legs. Datasets were fully corrected for random coincidences, scatter radiation, and attenuation. PET image reconstruction used the ordered-subsets expectation maximization method. Attenuation corrections of the PET images were performed using data from CT scans. PET/CT fusion was performed using a workstation (uWS-MI, United Imaging).

The training and test sets were reviewed independently by two nuclear medicine radiologists (F.W and S.Y.A, with 10 and 8 years of experience in prostate PET/CT, respectively). The radiologists were completely blinded to the clinical information and were encouraged to decide if an intraprostatic PCa lesion was present or not using a four-point scale: 1, definite BPD; 2, probable BPD; 3, probable PCa; and 4, definite PCa. Inter-reader agreement was evaluated using the Cohen's kappa coefficient. Agreement between the radiologists was reached by consensus.

Image segmentation

The radiomics workflow is shown in Fig. 1. The volumes of interest (VOIs) of the whole prostate gland were delineated manually and segmented slice by slice using 3D Slicer software (version:; by two nuclear medicine radiologists (Z.Y.Z. and S.M.Z., with 4 and 3 years of experience in prostate PET/CT, respectively), who were blinded to the clinical information, based on the PET images under consideration of the corresponding CT scan.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Radiomics modeling and analysis workflow

Radiomics feature extraction

Radiomics features were extracted using the feature package of pyradiomics ( in Python, according to the guidelines of the Image Biomarker Standardization Initiative [19]. All PET data were subjected to image normalization and resampled to the same resolution (2 × 2 × 2 mm) before feature extraction (Additional file 1: Table S1). Standardized uptake value was discretized to a fixed bin width of 0.25. A total of 944 radiomics features were extracted, including 14 shape features, 18 first-order intensity statistics features, 75 texture features [Gray Level Co-occurrence Matrix (24), Gray Level Size Zone Matrix (16), Gray Level Run Length Matrix (16), Neighboring Gray Tone Difference Matrix (5), Gray Level Dependence Matrix (14)], and 837 wavelet and Laplacian of Gaussian features.

Feature selection and radiomics model construction

In this study, only radiomics features with good interobserver reproducibility (intraclass correlation coefficient [ICC] > 0.75) were included in subsequent analyses. Radiomics features were scaled using a z-score and reduced to 10 features by classic minimum redundancy maximum relevance using R2 difference. This algorithm ensures the selection of features that are highly relevant to the actual classes while reducing redundancy among the selected features. The minimum redundancy maximum relevance (mRMR) algorithm has been proven to be effective in both radiomics and genomics studies requiring the selection of a small subset of features from thousands of possible features [20, 21]. Finally, the least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) algorithm was used to select significant distinguishable features with tenfold cross-validation (Fig. 2). To test the patient-based classification performance, a radiomics model score was then calculated for each patient in the training set and the test set using a formula constructed in the training set by a linear combination of selected features weighted by their respective coefficients.

Fig. 2
figure 2

LASSO algorithm and tenfold cross-validation were used to extract the optimal subset of radiomics features. a Optimal tuning parameter (lambda) selection according to partial likelihood deviation of the model. b LASSO coefficient profiles of the 10 features. Using the tenfold cross-validation, a vertical line was drawn at the selected value and nine non-zero coefficients are shown

Statistical analysis

Differences in patients’ characteristics between the training and test sets were assessed. The ICC was calculated to evaluate the interobserver agreement among radiologists and interobserver reproducibility of the radiomics features, with an ICC > 0.75 indicating good reproducibility [22]. The sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV), and negative predictive value (NPV) of the radiomics model and readers’ visual assessment were calculated. The diagnostic performances of the radiomics score and the readers’ evaluation for predicting PCa were evaluated using receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis. The optimal cutoff values of the radiomics score were determined by maximizing the Youden index in the training set. The fixed radiomics score cutoff values from the training set were then applied to the test set. The sensitivity, specificity, PPV, and NPV of the readers’ assessments were calculated by converting the four-point scale into a binary class. A score of 1 or 2 was regarded as BPD and a score of 3 or 4 was regarded as PCa. The AUC values were compared between the readers and radiomics model using the DeLong method.

Statistical analysis was conducted using SPSS 22.0 (IBM, Armonk, NY, USA) and R software (v. 4.1.3; The LASSO regression was carried out using the “glmnet” package and ROC curves were analyzed using the “pROC” package. All statistical tests were two-sided, and a P value < 0.05 was considered statistically significant.


Clinical characteristics

Among 237 patients, we excluded 91 because of anti-tumor treatment before PET/CT, 17 with distant metastasis and 4 because of history of malignancy. A total of 125 patients were finally included in the study and divided randomly into a training set (n = 87) and a test set (n = 38). All patients underwent biopsy or surgery and their pathological examination results were assessed. The baseline characteristics of the patients in the training and test sets are summarized in Table 1. The 87 patients in the training set included 61 (70.11%) with PCa and 26 (29.89%) with BPD, and the 38 patients in the test set included 25 (65.79%) with PCa and 13 (34.21%) with BPD. The distribution of ISUP grades was 1 (n = 8), 2 (n = 15), 3 (n = 21), 4 (n = 12), and 5 (n = 5) in the training set and 1 (n = 4), 2 (n = 4), 3 (n = 7), 4 (n = 6), and 5 (n = 4) in the test set. There were no significant differences in patient characteristics between the training and test sets.

Table 1 Clinical characteristics in the training and test sets

Feature extraction and selection

A total of 944 radiomics features were extracted in the present study. Of these, 226 features with interobserver ICCs < 0.75 were eliminated. Ten features with the least redundancy and the greatest correlation with the target label were retained using the mMRM method. Following tenfold cross-validation of the LASSO algorithm on the training set, nine features with non-zero coefficients emerged as the best features to construct the radiomics signature (Additional file 1: Table S2), and the equation for calculating the radiomics model score was as follows:

Radiomics model score = 1.6371213 − original_shape_Sphericity × 0.1003826 – original_glszm_SmallAreaLowGrayLevelEmphasis × 0.7303062 + log-sigma-3–0-mm-3D_ngtdm_Coarseness × 0.3241121 − wavelet-HHH_glszm_LowGrayLevelZoneEmphasis × 0.5685874 − wavelet-HHH_glszm_SizeZoneNonUniformityNormalized × 0.5211243 + wavelet-LLL_firstorder_Skewness × 0.4401625 − wavelet-LLH_firstorder_Skewness × 0.5177129 − wavelet-LLL_glszm_GrayLevelNonUniformity × 0.6099202 + wavelet-LLL_glszm_SmallAreaEmphasis × 0.4692401.

Radiomics model analysis

The performance of the radiomics features were evaluated by comparing the radiomics model scores based on the PET features. These differed significantly between the PCa and BPD groups in both the training and the test sets (both P < 0.001). Moreover, PCa had higher radiomics model score than BPD in both sets (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3
figure 3

Diagnostic performance of the radiomics model. Model scores for patients in the a training and b test sets. c Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves of radiomics model in the training and test sets. PCa, prostate cancer; BPD, benign prostate disease

The radiomics model had good predictive performance (Table 2), with sensitivity, specificity, PPV, and NPV values of 0.82 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.70, 0.90), 1.00 (95% CI: 0.84, 1.00), 1.00 (95% CI: 0.91, 1.00), and 0.70 (95% CI: 0.53, 0.84) in the training set, respectively. The equivalent values in the test set were 0.84 (95% CI: 0.63, 0.95), 0.77 (95% CI: 0.46, 0.94), 0.88 (95% CI: 0.67, 0.97), and 0.71 (95% CI: 0.42, 0.90), respectively. The AUC values for differentiating prostate histopathology were 0.95 (95% CI: 0.91, 0.99) and 0.85 (95% CI: 0.73, 0.97) in the training and test sets, respectively. Figure 3 shows the ROC curves of the radiomics model in the training and test sets.

Table 2 Diagnostic performances of the radiomics model and visual assessment by nuclear medicine radiologists

The discriminatory efficiency of visual assessment by radiologists were also evaluated. Detailed information is provided in Table 2. The agreement between readers on was almost perfect (κ = 0.81 [95% CI: 0.59, 1.00]).The sensitivity, specificity, PPV, and NPV for the readers’ assessments were 0.74 (95% CI: 0.53, 0.88), 0.55 (95% CI: 0.25, 0.82), 0.80 (95% CI: 0.59, 0.92), and 0.46 (95% CI: 0.20, 0.74), respectively. Visual assessment demonstrated an AUC value of 0.63 (95% CI: 0.47, 0.79), which was significantly lower than the AUC value of the radiomics model (0.63 vs. 0.85, respectively; P = 0.036) (Fig. 4). The radiomics model also achieved greater sensitivity, specificity, PPV, and NPV than those of the readers (0.84 vs. 0.74 [P = 0.002], 0.77 vs. 0.55 [P = 0.508], 0.88 vs. 0.80 [P < 0.001], and 0.71 vs. 0.46 [P = 0.754], respectively).

Fig. 4
figure 4

Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves of the radiomics model and visual assessment by nuclear medicine radiologists for discriminating PCa and BPD in the test set


In the present study, we developed a radiomics model based on 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET/CT for the non-invasive discrimination of patients with PCa from those with BPD. The model was successfully validated in independent test set (AUC, 0.85; sensitivity, 0.84; specificity, 77%; PPV, 0.88, NPV, 0.71) and outperformed visual assessments by nuclear medicine radiologists (AUC, 0.63; P = 0.036).

The non-invasive identification of patients with PCa is an important issue. Multi-parametric MRI (mp-MRI) has been an important diagnostic tool for detecting primary PCa for several years. Furthermore, the use of radiomics tools has improved radiologists’ assessments. Ginsburg et al. [23] evaluated features related to cancer detection in a transition zone and a peripheral zone in a cross-institutional setting and found that the radiomics features considered useful for cancer detection differed between the two zones. Cameron et al. [24] proposed a model consisting of an initial tumor candidate identification schema followed by the MAPS system (morphology, asymmetry, physiology, size) to score the candidate regions. The goal of the proposed model was to incorporate high-level features using candidate tumor regions through mp-MRI and region morphology to construct a high-dimensional feature space that could be mined for different purposes, such as cancer detection or prognosis prediction. However, these studies based on MRI do not reflect tumor heterogeneity as well as PSMA PET/CT, which targets a transmembrane glycoprotein substantially overexpressed in PCa cells [4, 5]. Zamboglou et al. [25] recently found that radiomics analysis of PSMA PET data was able to identify missing malignant lesions in the prostate gland. They enrolled patients with PCa and defined non-PCa tissue as the subtraction volume between the prostatic gland and PCa tumor, based on pathological tissue slices. However, further studies are needed to clarify the differences between radiomics features from the prostate tissue in the non-tumor area of prostate cancer patients and the prostate tissue in non-tumor patients. In the current study, we enrolled both PCa and non-PCa patients to comprehensively evaluate radiomics data from PSMA. Yi et al. [26] constructed a random forest model developed by 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET-based radiomics features proven to be useful for the accurate prediction of invisible intraprostatic lesions on 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET in patients with primary PCa (AUC, 0.903). Their study differed from the current study in that we evaluated both negative and non-negative PSMA-PET image cases. The present study showed a poorer model performance (AUC = 0.85), possibly due to differences in the inclusion criteria and region of interest between the two studies.

This study also compared the diagnostic performances of the radiomics model and qualitative evaluation by radiologists. Visual assessment of primary PCa based on experience remains challenging [27, 28]. Although PSMA is a transmembrane glycoprotein highly expressed on the cell surface of PCa cells, it is also expressed in benign pathologies such as BPD and prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia [29]. Benign intraprostatic processes can be associated with relatively high PSMA expression levels, with significant overlap between low-volume malignancies and benign disease. Moreover, visual PET interpretation might miss a significant number of intraprostatic lesions because of their small size or configuration [11], leading to potential false positives or false negatives [30, 31]. In this study, the radiomics model detected PCa based solely on a numeric feature set from high-dimensional medical imaging data, regardless of the clinical situation, which could explain its higher sensitivity compared with the readers’ assessments. On the other hand however, there was no significant difference in specificity, which might reflect the fact that the radiologists’ reports tended to maximize the specificity for an organ-preserving strategy, unlike the radiomics model determined by the Youden index. Further studies are thus needed to consider the specificity.

Whole-prostate gland segmentation strategy were employed in this study for two reasons. First, the characteristic large and low-resolution voxels for PET images limit the radiomics analysis in small prostate lesions, and VOIs with few voxels cannot provide much complementary information [32]. Second, it will be challenging to determine the value for negative or diffuse-pattern PET images. Recent studies [25, 26] showed that radiomics features derived from 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET images based on half-glandular segmentation were helpful for predicting invisible PCa lesions. Solari et al. [33] developed radiomics models based on delineating the whole prostate gland and showed good performances for predicting the postoperative Gleason score in PCa patients. In the present study, further comparison between the radiomics model and readers revealed that high-dimensional features offered better disease characterization for PCa.

This study had some limitations. First, its single-center design and relatively small sample size may compromise the model’s generalization ability and affect its sensitivity and specificity. It is therefore necessary to formulate a unified standard for multicenter studies and establish and test multicenter data using radiomics methods to improve the robustness of the model. Second, further studies using different PET/CT scanners are needed to validate the generalizability and robustness of the radiomics model. Third, we only analyzed PET-imaging data, and future research should aim to include multi-modal imaging data. Fourth, characterization of multifocality was not included in this study and is desirable in future research.


In conclusion, we successfully developed and validated a radiomics model based on features extracted from 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET. This model provides a non-invasive and quantitative method for predicting intraprostatic lesions in patient with PCa.

Availability of data and materials

All data presented in this study are available from the corresponding authors upon a reasonable request.



Prostate-specific membrane antigen


Minimum redundancy maximum relevance


Least absolute shrinkage and selection operator


Intraclass correlation coefficient


Receiver operating characteristic


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We are grateful to the patients and hospital staff for their collaboration. We also thank Susan Furness, Ph.D., from Liwen Bianji (Edanz) ( for editing the English text of a draft of this manuscript.


This study has received funding from Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province (BE2021605).

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Authors and Affiliations



SZ, SA, RY, PZ and ZZ analyzed the data, co-wrote the manuscript. WW, YN and QZ acquired the data, critically revised the manuscript. HS, HG, RJ, and FW contributed to the design of the study, critically revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Hongqian Guo, Ruipeng Jia or Feng Wang.

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Ethics approval and consent to participate

This work has been performed in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki and approved by the Ethics Committee of Nanjing First Hospital. Due to the retrospective study design, obtaining informed consent was waived for the included patients.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Supplementary Information

Additional file 1: Table S1

. Configuration settings of radiomics in the study. Table S2. The nine features selected for the predictive model construction.

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Zang, S., Ai, S., Yang, R. et al. Development and validation of 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET/CT-based radiomics model to detect primary prostate cancer. EJNMMI Res 12, 63 (2022).

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  • 68Ga-PSMA-11
  • PET/CT
  • Prostate cancer
  • Radiomics