We propose a new method of classifying the local structure types, such as nodules, vessels, and junctions, in thoracic CT scans. This classification is important in the context of computer aided detection (CAD) of lung nodules. The proposed method can be used as a post-process component of any lung CAD system. In such a scenario, the classification results provide an effective means of removing false positives caused by vessels and junctions thus improving overall performance. As main advantage, the proposed solution transforms the complex problem of classifying various 3D topological structures into much simpler 2D data clustering problem, to which more generic and flexible solutions are available in literature, and
which is better suited for visualization. Given a nodule candidate, first, our solution robustly fits an anisotropic Gaussian to the data. The resulting Gaussian center and spread parameters are used to affine-normalize the data domain so as to warp the fitted anisotropic ellipsoid into a fixed-size isotropic sphere. We propose an automatic method to extract a 3D spherical manifold, containing the appropriate bounding surface of the target structure. Scale selection is performed by a data driven entropy minimization approach. The manifold is analyzed for high intensity clusters, corresponding to protruding structures. Techniques involve EMclustering with automatic mode number estimation, directional statistics, and hierarchical clustering with a modified Bhattacharyya distance. The estimated number of high intensity clusters explicitly determines the type of pulmonary structures: nodule (0), attached nodule (1), vessel (2), junction (>3). We show accurate classification results for selected examples in thoracic CT scans. This local procedure is more flexible and efficient than
current state of the art and will help to improve the accuracy of general lung CAD systems.