Improving robustness of a deep learning-based lung-nodule classification model of CT images with respect to image noise

Yin Gao, Jennifer Xiong, Chenyang Shen, Xun Jia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objective. Robustness is an important aspect to consider, when developing methods for medical image analysis. This study investigated robustness properties of deep neural networks (DNNs) for a lung nodule classification problem based on CT images and proposed a solution to improve robustness. Approach. We firstly constructed a class of four DNNs with different widths, each predicting an output label (benign or malignant) for an input CT image cube containing a lung nodule. These networks were trained to achieve Area Under the Curve of 0.891-0.914 on a testing dataset. We then added to the input CT image cubes noise signals generated randomly using a realistic CT image noise model based on a noise power spectrum at 100 mAs, and monitored the DNNs output change. We defined SAR 5(%) to quantify the robustness of the trained DNN model, indicating that for 5% of CT image cubes, the noise can change the prediction results with a chance of at least SAR 5(%). To understand robustness, we viewed the information processing pipeline by the DNN as a two-step process, with the first step using all but the last layers to extract representations of the input CT image cubes in a latent space, and the second step employing the last fully-connected layer as a linear classifier to determine the position of the sample representations relative to a decision plane. To improve robustness, we proposed to retrain the last layer of the DNN with a Supporting Vector Machine (SVM) hinge loss function to enforce the desired position of the decision plane. Main results. SAR 5 ranged in 47.0%-62.0% in different DNNs. The unrobustness behavior may be ascribed to the unfavorable placement of the decision plane in the latent representation space, which made some samples be perturbed to across the decision plane and hence susceptible to noise. The DNN-SVM model improved robustness over the DNN model and reduced SAR 5 by 8.8%-21.0%. Significance. This study provided insights about the potential reason for the unrobustness behavior of DNNs and the proposed DNN-SVM model improved model robustness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number245005
JournalPhysics in medicine and biology
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 21 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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