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Towards Unsupervised Cancer Subtyping: Predicting Prognosis Using A Histologic Visual Dictionary

by   Hassan Muhammad, et al.

Unlike common cancers, such as those of the prostate and breast, tumor grading in rare cancers is difficult and largely undefined because of small sample sizes, the sheer volume of time needed to undertake on such a task, and the inherent difficulty of extracting human-observed patterns. One of the most challenging examples is intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC), a primary liver cancer arising from the biliary system, for which there is well-recognized tumor heterogeneity and no grading paradigm or prognostic biomarkers. In this paper, we propose a new unsupervised deep convolutional autoencoder-based clustering model that groups together cellular and structural morphologies of tumor in 246 ICC digitized whole slides, based on visual similarity. From this visual dictionary of histologic patterns, we use the clusters as covariates to train Cox-proportional hazard survival models. In univariate analysis, three clusters were significantly associated with recurrence-free survival. Combinations of these clusters were significant in multivariate analysis. In a multivariate analysis of all clusters, five showed significance to recurrence-free survival, however the overall model was not measured to be significant. Finally, a pathologist assigned clinical terminology to the significant clusters in the visual dictionary and found evidence supporting the hypothesis that collagen-enriched fibrosis plays a role in disease severity. These results offer insight into the future of cancer subtyping and show that computational pathology can contribute to disease prognostication, especially in rare cancers.


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