Patients under radiotherapy for head-and-neck cancer often suffer of long-term xerostomia, and/or consistent shrinkage of parotid glands. In order to avoid these drawbacks, adaptive therapy can be planned for patients at risk, if the prediction is obtained timely, before or during the early phase of treatment. Artificial intelligence can address the problem, by learning from examples and building classification models. In particular, fuzzy logic has shown its suitability for medical applications, in order to manage uncertain data, and to build transparent rule-based classifiers. In previous works, clinical, dosimetric and image-based features were considered separately, to find different possible predictors of parotid shrinkage. On the other hand, a few works reported possible image-based predictors of xerostomia, while the combination of different types of features has been little addressed.
This paper proposes the application of a novel machine learning approach, based on both statistics and fuzzy logic, aimed at the classification of patients at risk of i) parotid gland shrinkage and ii) 12-months xerostomia. Both problems are addressed with the aim of individuating predictors and models to classify respective outcomes.
Knowledge is extracted from a real dataset of radiotherapy patients, by means of a recently developed method named Likelihood-Fuzzy Analysis, based on the representation of statistical information by fuzzy rule-based models. This method enables to manage heterogeneous variables and missing data, and to obtain interpretable fuzzy models presenting good generalization power (thus high performance), and to measure classification confidence. Numerous features are extracted to characterize patients, coming from different sources, i.e. clinical features, dosimetric parameters, and radiomics-based measures obtained by texture analysis of Computed Tomography images. A learning approach based on the composition of simple models in a more complicated one allows to consider the features separately, in order to identify predictors and models to use when only some data source is available, and obtaining more accurate results when more information can be combined.
Regarding parotid shrinkage, a number of good predictors is detected, some already known and confirmed here, and some others found here, in particular among radiomics-based features. A number of models are also designed, some using single features and others involving models composition to improve classification accuracy. In particular, the best model to be used at the initial treatment stage, and another one applicable at the half treatment stage are identified. Regarding 12-months toxicity, some possible predictors are detected, in particular among radiomics-based features. Moreover, the relation between final parotid shrinkage rate and 12-months xerostomia is evaluated. The method is compared to the naïve Bayes classifier, which reveals similar results in terms of classification accuracy and best predictors. The interpretable fuzzy rule-based models are explicitly presented, and the dependence between predictors and outcome is explained, thus furnishing in some cases helpful insights about the considered problems.
Thanks to the performance and interpretability of the fuzzy classification method employed, predictors of both parotidshrinkage and xerostomia are detected, and their influence on each outcome is revealed. Moreover, models for predicting parotid shrinkageat initial and half radiotherapy stages are found.