Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Large-scale computations on histology images reveal grade-differentiating parameters for breast cancer

Sokol Petushi12, Fernando U Garcia2, Marian M Haber2, Constantine Katsinis3 and Aydin Tozeren1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biomedical Engineering, Science & Health Systems, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

2 Department of Pathology, Drexel University College of Medicine, 245N 15th St, Philadelphia, PA 19102, USA

3 Godwin College of Professional Studies, Drexel University, 3001 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

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BMC Medical Imaging 2006, 6:14  doi:10.1186/1471-2342-6-14

Published: 27 October 2006



Tumor classification is inexact and largely dependent on the qualitative pathological examination of the images of the tumor tissue slides. In this study, our aim was to develop an automated computational method to classify Hematoxylin and Eosin (H&E) stained tissue sections based on cancer tissue texture features.


Image processing of histology slide images was used to detect and identify adipose tissue, extracellular matrix, morphologically distinct cell nuclei types, and the tubular architecture. The texture parameters derived from image analysis were then applied to classify images in a supervised classification scheme using histologic grade of a testing set as guidance.


The histologic grade assigned by pathologists to invasive breast carcinoma images strongly correlated with both the presence and extent of cell nuclei with dispersed chromatin and the architecture, specifically the extent of presence of tubular cross sections. The two parameters that differentiated tumor grade found in this study were (1) the number density of cell nuclei with dispersed chromatin and (2) the number density of tubular cross sections identified through image processing as white blobs that were surrounded by a continuous string of cell nuclei. Classification based on subdivisions of a whole slide image containing a high concentration of cancer cell nuclei consistently agreed with the grade classification of the entire slide.


The automated image analysis and classification presented in this study demonstrate the feasibility of developing clinically relevant classification of histology images based on micro- texture. This method provides pathologists an invaluable quantitative tool for evaluation of the components of the Nottingham system for breast tumor grading and avoid intra-observer variability thus increasing the consistency of the decision-making process.