A Novel Model of Thyroid Nodule Segmentation for Ultrasound Images


      Ultrasonography is regarded as an effective technique for the detection, diagnosis and monitoring of thyroid nodules. Segmentation of thyroid nodules on ultrasound images is important in clinical practice. However, because in ultrasound images there is an unclear boundary between thyroid nodules and surrounding tissues, the accuracy of segmentation remains a challenge. Although the deep learning model provides an accurate and convenient method for thyroid nodule segmentation, it is unsatisfactory of the existing model in segmenting the margin of thyroid nodules. In this study, we developed boundary attention transformer net (BTNet), a novel segmentation network with a boundary attention mechanism combining the advantages of a convolutional neural network and transformer, which could fuse the features of both long and short ranges. Boundary attention is improved to focus on learning the boundary information, and this module enhances the segmentation ability of the network boundary. For features of different scales, we also incorporate a deep supervision mechanism to blend the outputs of different levels to enhance the segmentation effect. As the BTNet model incorporates the long range–short range connectivity effect and the boundary–regional cooperation capability, our model has excellent segmentation performance in thyroid nodule segmentation. The development of BTNet was based on the data set from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine Affiliated Sixth People's Hospital and the public data set. BTNet achieved good performance in the segmentation of thyroid nodules with an intersection-over-union of 0.810 and Dice coefficient of 0.892 Moreover, our work revealed great improvement in the boundary metrics; for example, the boundary distance was 7.308, the boundary overlap 0.201 and the boundary Dice 0.194, all with p values <0.05.

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