Context.—

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a histologic type of cancer that exhibits various degrees of keratinization. Identifying lymph node metastasis in SCC is crucial for prognosis and treatment strategies. Although artificial intelligence (AI) has shown promise in cancer prediction, applications specifically targeting SCC are limited.

Objective.—

To design and validate a deep learning model tailored to predict metastatic SCC in radical lymph node dissection specimens, using whole slide images (WSIs).

Design.—

Using the EfficientNetB1 architecture, a model was trained on 6587 WSIs (2413 SCC and 4174 nonneoplastic) from several hospitals, encompassing esophagus, head and neck, lung, and skin specimens. The training exclusively relied on WSI-level labels without annotations. We evaluated the model on a test set consisting of 541 WSIs (41 SCC and 500 nonneoplastic) of radical lymph node dissection specimens.

Results.—

The model exhibited high performance, with receiver operating characteristic curve areas under the curve between 0.880 and 0.987 in detecting SCC metastases in lymph nodes. Although true positives and negatives were accurately identified, certain limitations were observed. These included false positives due to germinal centers, dust cell aggregations, and specimen-handling artifacts, as well as false negatives due to poor differentiation.

Conclusions.—

The developed artificial intelligence model presents significant potential in enhancing SCC lymph node detection, offering workload reduction for pathologists and increasing diagnostic efficiency. Continuous refinement is needed to overcome existing challenges, making the model more robust and clinically relevant.

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Competing Interests

Kanavati and Tsuneki are employees of Medmain Inc. The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.