With the progression of diabetic retinopathy (DR) from the non-proliferative (NPDR) to proliferative (PDR) stage, the possibility of vision impairment increases significantly. Therefore, it is clinically important to detect the progression to PDR stage for proper intervention. We propose a segmentation-assisted DR classification methodology, that builds on (and improves) current methods by using a fully convolutional network (FCN) to segment retinal neovascularizations (NV) in retinal images prior to image classification. This study utilizes the Kaggle EyePacs dataset, containing retinal photographs from patients with varying degrees of DR (mild, moderate, severe NPDR and PDR. Two graders annotated the NV (a board-certified ophthalmologist and a trained medical student). Segmentation was performed by training an FCN to locate neovascularization on 669 retinal fundus photographs labeled with PDR status according to NV presence. The trained segmentation model was used to locate probable NV in images from the classification dataset. Finally, a CNN was trained to classify the combined images and probability maps into categories of PDR. The mean accuracy of segmentation-assisted classification was 87.71% on the test set (SD = 7.71%). Segmentation-assisted classification of PDR achieved accuracy that was 7.74% better than classification alone. Our study shows that segmentation assistance improves identification of the most severe stage of diabetic retinopathy and has the potential to improve deep learning performance in other imaging problems with limited data availability.