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The effect of harmonization on the variability of PET radiomic features extracted using various segmentation methods.

PURPOSE: This study aimed to examine the robustness of positron emission tomography (PET) radiomic features extracted via different segmentation methods before and after ComBat harmonization in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

METHODS: We included 120 patients (positive recurrence = 46 and negative recurrence = 74) referred for PET scanning as a routine part of their care. All patients had a biopsy-proven NSCLC. Nine segmentation methods were applied to each image, including manual delineation, K-means (KM), watershed, fuzzy-C-mean, region-growing, local active contour (LAC), and iterative thresholding (IT) with 40, 45, and 50% thresholds. Diverse image discretizations, both without a filter and with different wavelet decompositions, were applied to PET images. Overall, 6741 radiomic features were extracted from each image (749 radiomic features from each segmented area). Non-parametric empirical Bayes (NPEB) ComBat harmonization was used to harmonize the features. Linear Support Vector Classifier (LinearSVC) with L1 regularization For feature selection and Support Vector Machine classifier (SVM) with fivefold nested cross-validation was performed using StratifiedKFold with 'n_splits' set to 5 to predict recurrence in NSCLC patients and assess the impact of ComBat harmonization on the outcome.

RESULTS: From 749 extracted radiomic features, 206 (27%) and 389 (51%) features showed excellent reliability (ICC ≥ 0.90) against segmentation method variation before and after NPEB ComBat harmonization, respectively. Among all, 39 features demonstrated poor reliability, which declined to 10 after ComBat harmonization. The 64 fixed bin widths (without any filter) and wavelets (LLL)-based radiomic features set achieved the best performance in terms of robustness against diverse segmentation techniques before and after ComBat harmonization. The first-order and GLRLM and also first-order and NGTDM feature families showed the largest number of robust features before and after ComBat harmonization, respectively. In terms of predicting recurrence in NSCLC, our findings indicate that using ComBat harmonization can significantly enhance machine learning outcomes, particularly improving the accuracy of watershed segmentation, which initially had fewer reliable features than manual contouring. Following the application of ComBat harmonization, the majority of cases saw substantial increase in sensitivity and specificity.

CONCLUSION: Radiomic features are vulnerable to different segmentation methods. ComBat harmonization might be considered a solution to overcome the poor reliability of radiomic features.

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