A deep learning-based framework for segmenting invisible clinical target volumes with estimated uncertainties for post-operative prostate cancer radiotherapy

Anjali Balagopal, Dan Nguyen, Howard Morgan, Yaochung Weng, Michael Dohopolski, Mu Han Lin, Azar Sadeghnejad Barkousaraie, Yesenia Gonzalez, Aurelie Garant, Neil Desai, Raquibul Hannan, Steve Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


In post-operative radiotherapy for prostate cancer, precisely contouring the clinical target volume (CTV) to be irradiated is challenging, because the cancerous prostate gland has been surgically removed, so the CTV encompasses the microscopic spread of tumor cells, which cannot be visualized in clinical images like computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging. In current clinical practice, physicians’ segment CTVs manually based on their relationship with nearby organs and other clinical information, but this allows large inter-physician variability. Automating post-operative prostate CTV segmentation with traditional image segmentation methods has yielded suboptimal results. We propose using deep learning to accurately segment post-operative prostate CTVs. The model proposed is trained using labels that were clinically approved and used for patient treatment. To segment the CTV, we segment nearby organs first, then use their relationship with the CTV to assist CTV segmentation. To ease the encoding of distance-based features, which are important for learning both the CTV contours’ overlap with the surrounding OARs and the distance from their borders, we add distance prediction as an auxiliary task to the CTV network. To make the DL model practical for clinical use, we use Monte Carlo dropout (MCDO) to estimate model uncertainty. Using MCDO, we estimate and visualize the 95% upper and lower confidence bounds for each prediction which informs the physicians of areas that might require correction. The model proposed achieves an average Dice similarity coefficient (DSC) of 0.87 on a holdout test dataset, much better than established methods, such as atlas-based methods (DSC<0.7). The predicted contours agree with physician contours better than medical resident contours do. A reader study showed that the clinical acceptability of the automatically segmented CTV contours is equal to that of approved clinical contours manually drawn by physicians. Our deep learning model can accurately segment CTVs with the help of surrounding organ masks. Because the DL framework can outperform residents, it can be implemented practically in a clinical workflow to generate initial CTV contours or to guide residents in generating these contours for physicians to review and revise. Providing physicians with the 95% confidence bounds could streamline the review process for an efficient clinical workflow as this would enable physicians to concentrate their inspecting and editing efforts on the large uncertain areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102101
JournalMedical Image Analysis
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • CT imaging
  • Clinical target volume segmentation
  • Deep learning, Uncertainty estimation
  • Post-operative prostate cancer radiotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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