Optical biopsy of head and neck cancer using hyperspectral imaging and convolutional neural networks

Martin Halicek, James V. Little, Xu Wang, Amy Y. Chen, Baowei Fei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


For patients undergoing surgical cancer resection of squamous cell carcinoma (SCCa), cancer-free surgical margins are essential for good prognosis. We developed a method to use hyperspectral imaging (HSI), a noncontact optical imaging modality, and convolutional neural networks (CNNs) to perform an optical biopsy of ex-vivo, surgical gross-tissue specimens, collected from 21 patients undergoing surgical cancer resection. Using a cross-validation paradigm with data from different patients, the CNN can distinguish SCCa from normal aerodigestive tract tissues with an area under the receiver operator curve (AUC) of 0.82. Additionally, normal tissue from the upper aerodigestive tract can be subclassified into squamous epithelium, muscle, and gland with an average AUC of 0.94. After separately training on thyroid tissue, the CNN can differentiate between thyroid carcinoma and normal thyroid with an AUC of 0.95, 92% accuracy, 92% sensitivity, and 92% specificity. Moreover, the CNN can discriminate medullary thyroid carcinoma from benign multinodular goiter (MNG) with an AUC of 0.93. Classical-type papillary thyroid carcinoma is differentiated from MNG with an AUC of 0.91. Our preliminary results demonstrate that an HSI-based optical biopsy method using CNNs can provide multicategory diagnostic information for normal and cancerous head-and-neck tissue, and more patient data are needed to fully investigate the potential and reliability of the proposed technique.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number036007
JournalJournal of biomedical optics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Classification
  • Convolutional neural network
  • Deep learning
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Hyperspectral imaging
  • Optical biopsy
  • Squamous cell carcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomaterials


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