Multiscale deep learning framework captures systemic immune features in lymph nodes predictive of triple negative breast cancer outcome in large-scale studies.


The suggestion that the systemic immune response in lymph nodes (LNs) conveys prognostic value for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) patients has not previously been investigated in large cohorts. We used a deep learning (DL) framework to quantify morphological features in haematoxylin and eosin-stained LNs on digitised whole slide images. From 345 breast cancer patients, 5,228 axillary LNs, cancer-free and involved, were assessed. Generalisable multiscale DL frameworks were developed to capture and quantify germinal centres (GCs) and sinuses. Cox regression proportional hazard models tested the association between smuLymphNet-captured GC and sinus quantifications and distant metastasis-free survival (DMFS). smuLymphNet achieved a Dice coefficient of 0.86 and 0.74 for capturing GCs and sinuses, respectively, and was comparable to an interpathologist Dice coefficient of 0.66 (GC) and 0.60 (sinus). smuLymphNet-captured sinuses were increased in LNs harbouring GCs (p < 0.001). smuLymphNet-captured GCs retained clinical relevance in LN-positive TNBC patients whose cancer-free LNs had on average ≥2 GCs, had longer DMFS (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.28, p = 0.02) and extended GCs' prognostic value to LN-negative TNBC patients (HR = 0.14, p = 0.002). Enlarged smuLymphNet-captured sinuses in involved LNs were associated with superior DMFS in LN-positive TNBC patients in a cohort from Guy's Hospital (multivariate HR = 0.39, p = 0.039) and with distant recurrence-free survival in 95 LN-positive TNBC patients of the Dutch-N4plus trial (HR = 0.44, p = 0.024). Heuristic scoring of subcapsular sinuses in LNs of LN-positive Tianjin TNBC patients (n = 85) cross-validated the association of enlarged sinuses with shorter DMFS (involved LNs: HR = 0.33, p = 0.029 and cancer-free LNs: HR = 0.21 p = 0.01). Morphological LN features reflective of cancer-associated responses are robustly quantifiable by smuLymphNet. Our findings further strengthen the value of assessment of LN properties beyond the detection of metastatic deposits for prognostication of TNBC patients. © 2023 The Authors. The Journal of Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

More about this publication

The Journal of pathology
  • Volume 260
  • Issue nr. 4
  • Pages 376-389
  • Publication date 01-08-2023

This site uses cookies

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.