- Original research
- Open Access
Deep learning and radiomics framework for PSMA-RADS classification of prostate cancer on PSMA PET
EJNMMI Research volume 12, Article number: 76 (2022)
Accurate classification of sites of interest on prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) positron emission tomography (PET) images is an important diagnostic requirement for the differentiation of prostate cancer (PCa) from foci of physiologic uptake. We developed a deep learning and radiomics framework to perform lesion-level and patient-level classification on PSMA PET images of patients with PCa.
This was an IRB-approved, HIPAA-compliant, retrospective study. Lesions on [18F]DCFPyL PET/CT scans were assigned to PSMA reporting and data system (PSMA-RADS) categories and randomly partitioned into training, validation, and test sets. The framework extracted image features, radiomic features, and tissue type information from a cropped PET image slice containing a lesion and performed PSMA-RADS and PCa classification. Performance was evaluated by assessing the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUROC). A t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE) analysis was performed. Confidence and probability scores were measured. Statistical significance was determined using a two-tailed t test.
PSMA PET scans from 267 men with PCa had 3794 lesions assigned to PSMA-RADS categories. The framework yielded AUROC values of 0.87 and 0.90 for lesion-level and patient-level PSMA-RADS classification, respectively, on the test set. The framework yielded AUROC values of 0.92 and 0.85 for lesion-level and patient-level PCa classification, respectively, on the test set. A t-SNE analysis revealed learned relationships between the PSMA-RADS categories and disease findings. Mean confidence scores reflected the expected accuracy and were significantly higher for correct predictions than for incorrect predictions (P < 0.05). Measured probability scores reflected the likelihood of PCa consistent with the PSMA-RADS framework.
The framework provided lesion-level and patient-level PSMA-RADS and PCa classification on PSMA PET images. The framework was interpretable and provided confidence and probability scores that may assist physicians in making more informed clinical decisions.
Prostate cancer (PCa) is one of the most common cancers and a leading cause of cancer-related death in men . There has been an increasing interest in positron emission tomography (PET) agents targeting prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA), a transmembrane protein overexpressed on PCa cells, for imaging and directing therapy of PCa . Radiotracer-avid and non-avid pitfalls have been described with PSMA PET imaging [3, 4]. Reliable classification of lesions with or without radiotracer uptake is an important clinical step in verifying the detection and determining the prognosis of PCa . We developed a PSMA reporting and data system (PSMA-RADS version 1.0) framework to classify PSMA PET scans and individual findings that reflect the probability of PCa, thereby guiding management [5, 6]. We organized the PSMA-RADS framework around a 5-point scale where a higher score indicates a greater likelihood of PCa .
While medical images are typically visually evaluated by trained radiologists, this process may be time-consuming and subject to operator variability . Radiomics is a rapidly advancing field that aims to perform high-throughput extraction of clinically relevant features from radiologic data to build diagnostic and prognostic models [8, 9]. Unlike traditional radiomics workflows that utilize engineered handcrafted features, deep learning (DL) approaches can automatically extract deep features to directly model medical endpoints from the input images . Automated artificial intelligence and DL methods have significant advantages over manual evaluation, including more consistent extraction of radiomic features and reliable characterization of disease . Several machine learning and DL applications have been developed for PSMA PET in patients with metastatic disease, including radiomics-based risk stratification, attenuation map estimation for PSMA PET/magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and bone and lymph node lesion detection in PSMA PET/computed tomography (CT) images [10,11,12,13].
While DL methods can be conveniently treated as a black box, deep neural networks often suffer from a lack of interpretability . Despite having improved levels of accuracy in recent years, modern neural networks are not well calibrated and tend to be overconfident in their predictions . Reliable confidence estimates and likelihood measures are important for the interpretability of DL methods and could assist physicians in facilitating clinical decisions .
We developed an interpretable framework that incorporates both DL and radiomics for automated PSMA-RADS and PCa classification on PSMA PET images. The framework provided both lesion-level and patient-level predictions as well as calibrated confidence scores that reflected the level of certainty for those predictions and probability scores that reflected the likelihood of PCa. A t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE) analysis provided insight into learned relationships between the PSMA-RADS categories and disease findings on PSMA PET.
Materials and methods
PSMA PET/CT dataset
This was an IRB-approved, HIPAA-compliant, retrospective study. The data consisted of 267 [18F]DCFPyL PET/CT scans acquired at 60 min post-injection across two different scanners (Table 1). Four trained nuclear medicine physicians manually segmented 3794 lesions on a per-slice basis in the axial view. Each lesion was assigned to one of the nine PSMA-RADS categories, and specific anatomic locations were recorded . While each lesion was annotated by a single physician, the PSMA-RADS framework has high inter-observer agreement across readers with varying experience levels [17, 18]. The observed PSMA-RADS categories were used as ground truth. The data were randomly partitioned into training, validation, and test datasets with 2302, 760, and 732 lesions, respectively (Fig. 1a). Data from 53 patients were randomly partitioned into the patient-level test set. The remaining data were split into lesion-level training and validation sets. The framework was evaluated considering both in- and out-of-patient distributions . The dataset characteristics are described in Table 1 and Fig. 1b.
DL and radiomics framework
A framework was developed using DL and radiomics to perform PSMA-RADS and PCa classification of lesions on PSMA PET images (Fig. 2). A deep convolutional neural network (CNN) extracted image features from a cropped PET image slice containing a lesion to implicitly capture local contextual and global information. Image slices were cropped by a bounding box with a diagonal length of 7.5 times the lesion diameter (Additional file 1: Fig. S1). The lesion was placed at the center of the region of interest (ROI) to classify a single lesion while avoiding confusion with other lesions. A U-net delineated the lesion ROI on the cropped image slice (Additional file 1: Figs. S2–S3 and Table S1) [20,21,22]. Radiomic features explicitly captured intensity and morphology characteristics from lesion ROIs. Since the PSMA-RADS framework incorporates tissue type information at the site of uptake, the lesion tissue type was extracted by a separate CNN (Additional file 1: Fig. S4 and Table S2). Tissue type information was categorized into 4 broad categories, including bone, prostate, soft tissue, and lymphadenopathy, and encoded into one-hot vectors . The extracted features were passed into a fully connected network to yield softmax probabilities indicating the likelihood of belonging to one of the nine PSMA-RADS categories .
The framework was trained on the training set by minimizing a class-weighted categorical cross-entropy loss function via the adaptive moment estimation stochastic optimization algorithm . The framework was trained on cropped image slices to augment the data with a batch size of 512 samples for 500 epochs. Hold-out cross-validation during hyperparameter optimization and early stopping was applied to a randomly partitioned hold-out set consisting of 15% of the training dataset to prevent overfitting. See the Supplementary Information for data processing and network architecture details.
The framework performed per-lesion and per-patient PSMA-RADS classification. Softmax probabilities were averaged across slices for lesion-level predictions . Patient-level predictions were performed by taking the highest PSMA-RADS score across all lesions on the scan following the recommended guidelines for PSMA-RADS interpretation . Lesion-level performance was evaluated on the validation and test sets. Patient-level performance was evaluated on the test set. The receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve, area under the ROC curve (AUROC), confusion matrix, overall accuracy, precision, recall, and F1 score were assessed. Accuracy metrics were class-weighted, and ROC curves were micro-averaged. The framework’s performance was evaluated when using both the physician-annotated and automatically extracted radiomic feature and tissue type information inputs. Performance was compared across different scanners.
The framework provided a broad PCa classification, formulated as a binary classification task, based on the likelihood of benign versus disease findings according to the PSMA-RADS framework . PSMA-RADS-1 and -2 lesions were categorized as likely benign findings, and PSMA-RADS-3, 4, and 5 lesions were categorized as likely disease . The predicted softmax probabilities were summed across the respective PSMA-RADS categories. Lesion-level and patient-level performance was evaluated on the validation and test sets when using manually and automatically extracted inputs and compared across different scanners.
The framework’s predictions were visualized using t-SNE to provide an understanding of how the framework clusters its predictions. t-SNE is an unsupervised dimensionality reduction technique used to visualize the local structure and global geometry of high-dimensional data . The framework’s predictions were visualized in two dimensions via t-SNE with principal components analysis initialization.
A confidence score for PSMA-RADS classification
The framework provided confidence scores reflecting the expected level of accuracy. Temperature scaling, a single-parameter variant of Platt scaling, was performed to calibrate the framework’s outputs before the softmax activation . The optimal temperature, T, for temperature scaling calibration was found on the validation set and applied on the test set to yield well-calibrated softmax probabilities. Confidence scores were defined as the calibrated softmax probability corresponding to the predicted PSMA-RADS category. Confidence histograms were observed, and confidence scores of accurate and inaccurate predictions were compared. Confidence scores were visualized on t-SNE space.
A probability score for PCa
The framework provided a probability score that reflected the likelihood of PCa. The probability scores were derived by summing the calibrated softmax probabilities across the respective PSMA-RADS categories corresponding to disease findings. The distribution of probability scores for the test set predictions was compared on boxplots according to their PSMA-RADS categories and visualized on a t-SNE scatter plot.
Feature importance experiments were performed to evaluate the robustness of the framework. Different input combinations, including the cropped PET image (I), the extracted radiomic features (F), and the tissue type of the lesion (L), were used to train the framework (Additional file 1: Table S3). The framework was evaluated on the validation set for lesion-level prediction using the manually extracted inputs for each input combination. Feature ablation experiments were also performed to further assess the importance of the radiomic features where individual radiomic features were removed from the inputs during prediction. The relative performance reductions in overall accuracy due to feature ablation compared to the model predictions without feature ablation were assessed on the validation set for lesion-level prediction using the manually extracted inputs.
Statistical significance was determined using a two-tailed t test where a P < 0.05 was used to infer a significant difference. ROC curve 95% confidence and tolerance intervals were computed with 1000 bootstrap samples. Statistical analysis and data processing were implemented in Python 3.8.8 and MATLAB 2022b. The framework was implemented in TensorFlow 2.4.1 and Keras 2.4.3 on NVIDIA Quadro P5000 and NVIDIA A6000 GPUs with Linux CentOS 7.6 and Windows 10 operating systems.
Characterizing the PSMA PET data
A histogram of the PSMA-RADS categories and tissue types across all lesions is shown in Fig. 1b. Lesion-level and patient-level distributions of the PSMA-RADS categories and scanner types are shown in Table 1. There were 898, 1873, 127, and 896 lesions with a tissue type of bone, lymphadenopathy, prostate, and soft tissue, respectively.
Accuracy metrics, ROC curves, and confusion matrices on the framework’s performance on the PSMA-RADS classification task are given in Table 2 and Fig. 3a, b. When using automatically extracted inputs, the framework yielded AUROC values of 0.93 and 0.87 (Fig. 3a) and overall accuracies of 0.67 and 0.52 on the validation and test sets, respectively, for lesion-level prediction. ROC curves and AUROC values on the validation and test sets for lesions with a tissue type of bone, lymphadenopathy, prostate, and soft tissue, respectively, are shown in Additional file 1: Fig. S5 for lesion-level prediction when using manually extracted inputs. For patient-level prediction, the framework yielded AUROC values of 0.91 and 0.90 and overall accuracies of 0.77 and 0.77 on the test set with the manually and automatically extracted inputs, respectively (Table 2, Fig. 3a). The framework’s lesion-level and patient-level overall accuracy was not significantly different across different scanners (P > 0.05).
Accuracy metrics, ROC curves, and confusion matrices on the framework’s performance for PCa classification are given in Table 3 and Fig. 3c, d. The framework yielded AUROC values of 0.98 and 0.96 and overall accuracies of 0.94 and 0.89 on the validation and test sets, respectively, for lesion-level prediction using manually extracted inputs (Table 3). When using automatically extracted inputs, the framework yielded AUROC values of 0.95 and 0.92 and overall accuracies of 0.89 and 0.85 on the validation and test sets, respectively (Fig. 3c). For patient-level prediction, the framework yielded overall accuracies of 0.92 and 0.89 and AUROC values of 0.84 and 0.85, when using the manually and automatically extracted inputs, respectively, on the test set. The framework’s lesion-level and patient-level overall accuracy was not significantly different across scanners (P > 0.05).
The t-SNE scatter plots of the framework’s predictions are shown in Fig. 4. The framework formed well-defined clusters of the predicted PSMA-RADS categories (Fig. 4a). These clusters were preserved when labeled according to the physician annotations (Fig. 4b). The framework learned the global relationship between benign, equivocal, and disease findings (Fig. 4c, d). PSMA-RADS-1A, -1B, and -2 predictions were clustered together in the upper right of the t-SNE space forming a global cluster of benign findings. PSMA-RADS-4 and -5 predictions, findings that were highly likely PCa, were closely clustered in the lower left of the t-SNE space. Equivocal findings corresponding to PSMA-RADS-3A, -3B, and -3D predictions were closely clustered near the PSMA-RADS-4 and -5 predictions at the center of the t-SNE space between the global benign and disease clusters (Fig. 4a). This reflects the uncertainty of those equivocal findings on their compatibility with PCa. Interestingly, PSMA-RADS-3C predictions were clustered near PSMA-RADS-1B and -2 predictions (Fig. 4a). This may be because PSMA-RADS-3C findings are atypical for PCa and likely to be other non-prostate malignancies or benign tumors .
A confidence score for PSMA-RADS classification
The optimal temperature for temperature scaling was T = 4.26. Confidence histograms before and after performing temperature scaling calibration are shown in Fig. 5a, b. Before calibration, the framework’s average confidence was 0.90 on the test set. After calibration, the average confidence was 0.63 reflecting the framework’s overall accuracy of 0.61. A confidence histogram comparing correct and incorrect predictions is shown in Fig. 5c. The mean confidence scores were significantly higher (P < 0.05) for correct predictions (0.68) than for incorrect predictions (0.55). The distribution of confidence scores on t-SNE space is shown in Fig. 5d. The framework was less confident of predictions near the boundaries between individual PSMA-RADS subcategory clusters and more confident of predictions farther away from those boundaries.
A probability score for PCa
Boxplots of probability scores reflecting the likelihood of PCa are shown in Fig. 6a–c. Higher probability scores were assigned to lesions with higher PSMA-RADS scores (Fig. 6b). PSMA-RADS-1 and -2 lesions had a mean probability score of 0.19 corresponding to benign findings (Fig. 6c). PSMA-RADS-4 and -5 lesions had a mean probability score of 0.86, reflecting the high likelihood of PCa. PSMA-RADS-3 lesions had an intermediate mean probability score of 0.75 corresponding to equivocal findings. However, PSMA-RADS-3C lesions had a significantly lower mean probability score of 0.57 (P < 0.05) when compared to PSMA-RADS-3A, -3B, and -3D lesions (Fig. 6a). This reflects the PSMA-RADS categorization scheme since PSMA-RADS-3C lesions are atypical for PCa . The distribution of probability scores on t-SNE space (Fig. 6d) showed an increased likelihood of PCa from the benign to the disease clusters.
The network trained on all input features had the highest performance across all evaluation metrics for lesion-level prediction (Fig. 7a, b and Additional file 1: Table S4) and had a significantly higher overall accuracy than all other networks (P < 0.05). The network trained on both the image and radiomic features outperformed the networks trained only on either the image or radiomic features, highlighting the synergy in combining the radiomic and CNN-extracted features. The networks trained on both the image and tissue type information and both the radiomic features and tissue type information outperformed the networks trained only on either the image or tissue type information, respectively, highlighting the importance of the tissue type information.
The relative reductions in performance due to radiomic feature ablation are shown in Fig. 7c, d. Ablation of the lesion-to-background ratio and the mean standardized uptake value (SUVmean) of the lesion resulted in the highest and second highest reductions in performance, respectively, for the network given both the image and radiomic features and the network given only radiomic features, highlighting the importance of those features. Circularity and maximum standardized uptake value (SUVmax) of the lesion were the third and fourth most important features in both cases, respectively, followed by lesion volume as the fifth or sixth most important feature. This emphasizes the importance of accurate lesion delineation for reliable extraction of radiomic features reflecting such intensity and shape characteristics.
PSMA PET imaging has shown superior performance in the detection and staging of primary and metastatic PCa compared to conventional imaging modalities such as CT, MRI, and bone scan [3, 28, 29]. Our framework incorporated DL and radiomics to classify findings on [18F]DCFPyL PET scans. The framework classified findings on the test set into appropriate PSMA-RADS categories and yielded AUROC values of 0.87 and 0.90 for lesion-level and patient-level predictions, respectively. The framework provided broad PCa classification with AUROC values of 0.92 and 0.85 on the test set for lesion-level and patient-level predictions, respectively. A t-SNE analysis showed prediction clusters consistent with the PSMA-RADS categorization scheme. The framework provided confidence and probability scores reflecting the uncertainty and likelihood of PCa, respectively.
Lesion-level PSMA-RADS classification performance was comparable across the test and validation sets, except for PSMA-RADS-3D lesions which were largely misclassified as PSMA-RADS-3A lesions on the test set. Such cases of inaccuracy would not affect the recommendation suggested by the PSMA-RADS framework since further work-up or follow-up imaging would be required for PSMA-RADS-3A and -3D lesions . Three out of six lesions incorrectly classified as PSMA-RADS-3D lesions on the test set were PSMA-RADS-1A lesions (Fig. 3b), likely because PSMA-RADS-3D lesions lack uptake on PSMA PET imaging despite representing potential malignancy on anatomic imaging . Similarly, 8/9 lesions incorrectly classified as PSMA-RADS-3C lesions on the test set were PSMA-RADS-1B and -2 lesions (Fig. 3b). These observations reflect the complexity of the PSMA-RADS-3 designation.
The framework maintained an overall accuracy of 0.77 (41/53) on the test with both automatically and manually extracted inputs for the patient-level PSMA-RADS classification (Table 2), highlighting the robustness of the framework. Similarly, the framework yielded overall accuracies of 0.85 (621/732) and 0.89 (47/53) on the test set with automatically extracted inputs for lesion-level and patient-level broad PCa classification, respectively (Fig. 3d, Table 3).
A t-SNE analysis revealed learned local and global relationships between the PSMA-RADS categories and benign, equivocal, and disease findings (Fig. 4). The framework provided confidence and probability scores, which may help radiologists interpret the predicted outputs to make a more informed clinical diagnosis (Figs. 5, 6). A high level of uncertainty could serve as a flag for physicians to put less weight on the predicted output or to take a second look when determining diagnosis . The confidence and probability scores may assist in better defining how patients should be treated when they appear to have limited volume recurrent or metastatic disease and are being considered for metastasis-directed therapy .
PSMA PET radiotracers have been observed to have physiologic uptake patterns and uptake in various benign bone pathologies, which may result in false-positive findings . Benign findings were accounted for in our dataset where PSMA-RADS-1 and PSMA-RADS-2 findings corresponded to certainly or almost certainly benign regions of uptake . For example, of the 898 regions of uptake in the bone, 33 (3.67%) were PSMA-RADS-1A findings, 15 (1.67%) were PSMA-RADS-1B, and 53 (5.90%) were PSMA-RADS-2 (Fig. 1b). Our framework was trained to differentiate regions of uptake corresponding to PCa and benign findings.
The tissue type information was found to be especially important in improving overall performance (Fig. 7a, b and Additional file 1: Tables S3–S4). Incorporating CT or MRI imaging may provide further anatomic information, especially for lesions with low uptake on the PET image . For example, incorporating dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI may help improve the detection and characterization of skeletal metastases in patients with PCa [32, 33]. While performing textural analysis is challenging on PET due to limited spatial resolution, incorporating higher-order radiomic features, such as gray-level co-occurrence matrix, gray-level run-length matrix, and gray-level size zone matrix, from CT or MRI imaging, may help further improve performance .
The four most important radiomic features were lesion-to-background ratio, lesion SUVmean, circularity, and lesion SUVmax in feature ablation experiments (Fig. 7c, d). The variance of the background SUV was relatively important for the network given only radiomic features resulting in a 20.50% reduction in performance after ablation (Fig. 7d). However, the background SUV variance was the least important feature for the network that was given both the image and radiomic features with less than 1% reduction in performance (Fig. 7c), indicating that the CNN extracted important characteristics about the overall context of the lesion from the surrounding background in the input image. Interestingly, the network that was given both the image and the radiomic features was generally less sensitive to feature ablations and had smaller reductions in relative performance when compared to the network that was not given the image (Fig. 7c, d). This suggests that deep features extracted by the CNN are complementary to the radiomic features and can help compensate for the loss of information in ablated features.
While the highest PSMA-RADS score was used to determine the overall scan category, we also considered the impact of using the lower PSMA-RADS scores on patient-level performance which may be relevant in the case of less experienced readers. This was done by taking the median PSMA-RADS score predicted for individual lesions on the scan as the overall score compared to the maximum PSMA-RADS score. ROC curves and AUROC values for patient-level prediction when using manually extracted inputs are shown in Additional file 1: Fig. S6. As expected, using the maximum PSMA-RADS score yielded more reliable patient-level predictions than when using the median PSMA-RADS score, which yielded a lower AUROC value of 0.62 (Additional file 1: Fig. S6).
The framework’s performance was affected by the class imbalance present in the dataset (Fig. 1b). The PSMA-RADS-3C and -3D categories had the lowest performance and the fewest lesions in the entire dataset. Most scans had an overall PSMA-RADS score of either PSMA-RADS-4 or -5 further contributing to the patient-level class imbalance (Table 1). To combat class imbalances, generative adversarial networks could be leveraged to generate a large amount of simulated data to train the framework [35,36,37]. Training the framework using ensemble learning may also improve performance as such meta-learning approaches have had success for classification and prognostic tasks [38, 39].
Related work by Johnsson et al. introduced aPROMISE, a software platform for lesion detection in PSMA PET/CT . In aPROMISE, U-net-based anatomical segmentations of bones and organs on the CT image are fused to the PET image, and lesion detection and segmentation are performed by blob detection and fast marching method, respectively . In contrast, our approach performs deep learning-based lesion classification and segmentation using only the PET image. Another key difference is that aPROMISE is based on the PROMISE criteria, whereas our approach is based on PSMA-RADS [5, 13].
Our study had limitations. First, the framework was validated with physician-annotated PSMA-RADS categories subject to inter-operator variability. While the PSMA-RADS categorization scheme has been shown to have a high inter-observer agreement rate, further validation of the framework by histopathology or a multiple-reader consensus study is important for clinical translation [17, 18, 40]. Second, the framework was trained on a per-slice basis. Incorporating the whole imaged volume may help provide anatomic context by considering the presence of other lesions, for example, in the chest or abdomen regions [41, 42]. Third, while the framework incorporates lesion classification and segmentation tasks, the framework does not perform lesion detection. Incorporating the automated detection task could help identify regions of uptake that might be missed [43, 44].
In conclusion, a DL- and radiomics-based framework was developed and performed lesion-level and patient-level PSMA-RADS and PCa classification on PSMA PET images. A t-SNE analysis revealed learned relationships between the PSMA-RADS categories and disease findings on PSMA PET scans. The framework was interpretable and provided well-calibrated confidence and probability scores for each prediction.
Availability of data and materials
The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
Area under the receiver operating characteristic
Convolutional neural network
Magnetic resonance imaging
Positron emission tomography
Prostate-specific membrane antigen
Prostate-specific membrane antigen reporting and data systems
Receiver operating characteristic
Region of interest
Standardized uptake value
T-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding
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Financial support for this project was provided by the National Institutes of Health under grant numbers R01CA134675, P41EB024495, R01CA184228, R01NS094227, U01CA140204, and T32EB006351.
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Leung, K.H., Rowe, S.P., Leal, J.P. et al. Deep learning and radiomics framework for PSMA-RADS classification of prostate cancer on PSMA PET. EJNMMI Res 12, 76 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13550-022-00948-1
- PSMA PET
- Deep learning
- Prostate cancer