Point-of-care oral cytology tool for the screening and assessment of potentially malignant oral lesions

Michael P. McRae, Sayli S. Modak, Glennon W. Simmons, Denise A. Trochesset, A. Ross Kerr, Martin H. Thornhill, Spencer W. Redding, Nadarajah Vigneswaran, Stella K. Kang, Nicolaos J. Christodoulides, Craig Murdoch, Steven J. Dietl, Roger Markham, John T. McDevitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The effective detection and monitoring of potentially malignant oral lesions (PMOL) are critical to identifying early-stage cancer and improving outcomes. In the current study, the authors described cytopathology tools, including machine learning algorithms, clinical algorithms, and test reports developed to assist pathologists and clinicians with PMOL evaluation. Methods: Data were acquired from a multisite clinical validation study of 999 subjects with PMOLs and oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) using a cytology-on-a-chip approach. A machine learning model was trained to recognize and quantify the distributions of 4 cell phenotypes. A least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (lasso) logistic regression model was trained to distinguish PMOLs and cancer across a spectrum of histopathologic diagnoses ranging from benign, to increasing grades of oral epithelial dysplasia (OED), to OSCC using demographics, lesion characteristics, and cell phenotypes. Cytopathology software was developed to assist pathologists in reviewing brush cytology test results, including high-content cell analyses, data visualization tools, and results reporting. Results: Cell phenotypes were determined accurately through an automated cytological assay and machine learning approach (99.3% accuracy). Significant differences in cell phenotype distributions across diagnostic categories were found in 3 phenotypes (type 1 [“mature squamous”], type 2 [“small round”], and type 3 [“leukocytes”]). The clinical algorithms resulted in acceptable performance characteristics (area under the curve of 0.81 for benign vs mild dysplasia and 0.95 for benign vs malignancy). Conclusions: These new cytopathology tools represent a practical solution for rapid PMOL assessment, with the potential to facilitate screening and longitudinal monitoring in primary, secondary, and tertiary clinical care settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-220
Number of pages14
JournalCancer Cytopathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • artificial intelligence
  • biomarkers
  • cytology
  • oral epithelial dysplasia
  • point-of-care testing
  • single-cell analysis
  • squamous cell carcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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