MetricUNet: Synergistic image- and voxel-level learning for precise prostate segmentation via online sampling.

Abstract Fully convolutional networks (FCNs), including UNet and VNet, are widely-used network architectures for semantic segmentation in recent studies. However, conventional FCN is typically trained by the cross-entropy or Dice loss, which only calculates the error between predictions and ground-truth labels for pixels individually. This often results in non-smooth neighborhoods in the predicted segmentation. This problem becomes more serious in CT prostate segmentation as CT images are usually of low tissue contrast. To address this problem, we propose a two-stage framework, with the first stage to quickly localize the prostate region, and the second stage to precisely segment the prostate by a multi-task UNet architecture. We introduce a novel online metric learning module through voxel-wise sampling in the multi-task network. Therefore, the proposed network has a dual-branch architecture that tackles two tasks: 1) a segmentation sub-network aiming to generate the prostate segmentation, and 2) a voxel-metric learning sub-network aiming to improve the quality of the learned feature space supervised by a metric loss. Specifically, the voxel-metric learning sub-network samples tuples (including triplets and pairs) in voxel-level through the intermediate feature maps. Unlike conventional deep metric learning methods that generate triplets or pairs in image-level before the training phase, our proposed voxel-wise tuples are sampled in an online manner and operated in an end-to-end fashion via multi-task learning. To evaluate the proposed method, we implement extensive experiments on a real CT image dataset consisting 339 patients. The ablation studies show that our method can effectively learn more representative voxel-level features compared with the conventional learning methods with cross-entropy or Dice loss. And the comparisons show that the proposed method outperforms the state-of-the-art methods by a reasonable margin.
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