Machine learning applications for the differentiation of primary central nervous system lymphoma from glioblastoma on imaging: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Anthony V. Nguyen, Elizabeth Blears, Evan Ross, Rishi Rajiv Lall, Juan Ortega-Barnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE Glioblastoma (GBM) and primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL) are common intracranial pathologies encountered by neurosurgeons. They often may have similar radiological findings, making diagnosis difficult without surgical biopsy; however, management is quite different between these two entities. Recently, predictive analytics, including machine learning (ML), have garnered attention for their potential to aid in the diagnostic assessment of a variety of pathologies. Several ML algorithms have recently been designed to differentiate GBM from PCNSL radiologically with a high sensitivity and specificity. The objective of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to evaluate the implementation of ML algorithms in differentiating GBM and PCNSL. METHODS The authors performed a systematic review of the literature using PubMed in accordance with PRISMA guidelines to select and evaluate studies that included themes of ML and brain tumors. These studies were further narrowed down to focus on works published between January 2008 and May 2018 addressing the use of ML in training models to distinguish between GBM and PCNSL on radiological imaging. Outcomes assessed were test characteristics such as accuracy, sensitivity, specificity, and area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC). RESULTS Eight studies were identified addressing use of ML in training classifiers to distinguish between GBM and PCNSL on radiological imaging. ML performed well with the lowest reported AUC being 0.878. In studies in which ML was directly compared with radiologists, ML performed better than or as well as the radiologists. However, when ML was applied to an external data set, it performed more poorly. CONCLUSIONS Few studies have applied ML to solve the problem of differentiating GBM from PCNSL using imaging alone. Of the currently published studies, ML algorithms have demonstrated promising results and certainly have the potential to aid radiologists with difficult cases, which could expedite the neurosurgical decision-making process. It is likely that ML algorithms will help to optimize neurosurgical patient outcomes as well as the cost-effectiveness of neurosurgical care if the problem of overfitting can be overcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE5
JournalNeurosurgical Focus
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018



  • Glioblastoma
  • Machine learning
  • Predictive analytics
  • Primary central nervous system lymphoma
  • Radiological diagnosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology

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