Weakly supervised semantic segmentation of histological tissue via attention accumulation and pixel-level contrast learning

Yongqi Han, Lianglun Cheng, Guoheng Huang, Guo Zhong, Jiahua Li, Xiaochen Yuan, Hongrui Liu, Jiao Li, Jian Zhou, Muyan Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Objective. Histopathology image segmentation can assist medical professionals in identifying and diagnosing diseased tissue more efficiently. Although fully supervised segmentation models have excellent performance, the annotation cost is extremely expensive. Weakly supervised models are widely used in medical image segmentation due to their low annotation cost. Nevertheless, these weakly supervised models have difficulty in accurately locating the boundaries between different classes of regions in pathological images, resulting in a high rate of false alarms Our objective is to design a weakly supervised segmentation model to resolve the above problems. Approach. The segmentation model is divided into two main stages, the generation of pseudo labels based on class residual attention accumulation network (CRAANet) and the semantic segmentation based on pixel feature space construction network (PFSCNet). CRAANet provides attention scores for each class through the class residual attention module, while the Attention Accumulation (AA) module overlays the attention feature maps generated in each training epoch. PFSCNet employs a network model containing an inflated convolutional residual neural network and a multi-scale feature-aware module as the segmentation backbone, and proposes dense energy loss and pixel clustering modules are based on contrast learning to solve the pseudo-labeling-inaccuracy problem. Main results. We validate our method using the lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD-HistoSeg) dataset and the breast cancer (BCSS) dataset. The results of the experiments show that our proposed method outperforms other state-of-the-art methods on both datasets in several metrics. This suggests that it is capable of performing well in a wide variety of histopathological image segmentation tasks. Significance. We propose a weakly supervised semantic segmentation network that achieves approximate fully supervised segmentation performance even in the case of incomplete labels. The proposed AA and pixel-level contrast learning also make the edges more accurate and can well assist pathologists in their research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number045010
JournalPhysics in Medicine and Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2023


  • attention accumulation
  • contrast learning
  • histological tissue
  • weakly supervised semantic segmentation


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