Tumor Segmentation in Colorectal Ultrasound Images Using an Ensemble Transfer Learning Model: Towards Intra-Operative Margin Assessment

Freija Geldof*, Constantijn W.A. Pruijssers, Lynn Jade S. Jong, Dinusha Veluponnar, Theo J.M. Ruers, Behdad Dashtbozorg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Tumor boundary identification during colorectal cancer surgery can be challenging, and incomplete tumor removal occurs in approximately 10% of the patients operated for advanced rectal cancer. In this paper, a deep learning framework for automatic tumor segmentation in colorectal ultrasound images was developed, to provide real-time guidance on resection margins using intra-operative ultrasound. A colorectal ultrasound dataset was acquired consisting of 179 images from 74 patients, with ground truth tumor annotations based on histopathology results. To address data scarcity, transfer learning techniques were used to optimize models pre-trained on breast ultrasound data for colorectal ultrasound data. A new custom gradient-based loss function (GWDice) was developed, which emphasizes the clinically relevant top margin of the tumor while training the networks. Lastly, ensemble learning methods were applied to combine tumor segmentation predictions of multiple individual models and further improve the overall tumor segmentation performance. Transfer learning outperformed training from scratch, with an average Dice coefficient over all individual networks of 0.78 compared to 0.68. The new GWDice loss function clearly decreased the average tumor margin prediction error from 1.08 mm to 0.92 mm, without compromising the segmentation of the overall tumor contour. Ensemble learning further improved the Dice coefficient to 0.84 and the tumor margin prediction error to 0.67 mm. Using transfer and ensemble learning strategies, good tumor segmentation performance was achieved despite the relatively small dataset. The developed US segmentation model may contribute to more accurate colorectal tumor resections by providing real-time intra-operative feedback on tumor margins.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3595
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2023


  • colorectal cancer surgery
  • data scarcity
  • ensemble learning
  • image-guided surgery
  • margin assessment
  • transfer learning
  • tumor segmentation
  • ultrasound


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