Investigating the potential of deep learning for patient-specific quality assurance of salivary gland contours using EORTC-1219-DAHANCA-29 clinical trial data

Authors Nijhuis H, van Rooij W, Gregoire V, Overgaard J, Slotman BJ, Verbakel WF, Dahele M
Source Acta Oncol. 2021 May;60(5):575-581 Publicationdate 11 Jan 2021


Introduction: Manual quality assurance (QA) of radiotherapy contours for clinical trials is time and labor intensive and subject to inter-observer variability. Therefore, we investigated whether deep-learning (DL) can provide an automated solution to salivary gland contour QA.

Material and methods: DL-models were trained to generate contours for parotid (PG) and submandibular glands (SMG). Sørensen-Dice coefficient (SDC) and Hausdorff distance (HD) were used to assess agreement between DL and clinical contours and thresholds were defined to highlight cases as potentially sub-optimal. 3 types of deliberate errors (expansion, contraction and displacement) were gradually applied to a test set, to confirm that SDC and HD were suitable QA metrics. DL-based QA was performed on 62 patients from the EORTC-1219-DAHANCA-29 trial. All highlighted contours were visually inspected.

Results: Increasing the magnitude of all 3 types of errors resulted in progressively severe deterioration/increase in average SDC/HD. 19/124 clinical PG contours were highlighted as potentially sub-optimal, of which 5 (26%) were actually deemed clinically sub-optimal. 2/19 non-highlighted contours were false negatives (11%). 15/69 clinical SMG contours were highlighted, with 7 (47%) deemed clinically sub-optimal and 2/15 non-highlighted contours were false negatives (13%). For most incorrectly highlighted contours causes for low agreement could be identified.

Conclusion: Automated DL-based contour QA is feasible but some visual inspection remains essential. The substantial number of false positives were caused by sub-optimal performance of the DL-model. Improvements to the model will increase the extent of automation and reliability, facilitating the adoption of DL-based contour QA in clinical trials and routine practice.