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Mesoscopic photoacoustic imaging (PAI) enables non-invasive visualisation of tumour vasculature. The visual or semi-quantitative 2D measurements typically applied to mesoscopic PAI data fail to capture the 3D vessel network complexity and lack robust ground truths for assessment of accuracy. Here, we developed a pipeline for quantifying 3D vascular networks captured using mesoscopic PAI and tested the preservation of blood volume and network structure with topological data analysis. Ground truth data of in silico synthetic vasculatures and a string phantom indicated that learning-based segmentation best preserves vessel diameter and blood volume at depth, while rule-based segmentation with vesselness image filtering accurately preserved network structure in superficial vessels. Segmentation of vessels in breast cancer patient-derived xenografts (PDXs) compared favourably to ex vivo immunohistochemistry. Furthermore, our findings underscore the importance of validating segmentation methods when applying mesoscopic PAI as a tool to evaluate vascular networks in vivo.

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Department of Physics, University of Cambridge, JJ Thomson Avenue, Cambridge CB3 0HE, UK.