Oral cancer is the 11th most common cancer in the world. Cancers of the oral cavity and oropharynx account for more than 7,500 deaths each year in the United States alone. Major advances have been made in the management of oral cancer through the combined use of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, improving the quality of life for many patients; however, these advances have not led to a significant increase in survival rates, primarily because diagnosis often occurs at a late stage when treatment is more difficult and less successful. Accurate, objective, noninvasive methods for early diagnosis of oral neoplasia are needed. Here a method is presented to noninvasively evaluate oral lesions using depth-sensitive optical spectroscopy (DSOS). A ball lens coupled fiber-optic probe was developed to enable preferential targeting of different depth regions in the oral mucosa. Clinical studies of the diagnostic performance of DSOS in 157 subjects were carried out in collaboration with the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. An overall sensitivity of 90% and specificity of 89% were obtained for nonkeratinized oral tissue relative to histopathology. Based on these results a compact, portable version of the clinical DSOS device with real-time automated diagnostic capability was developed. The portable device was tested in 47 subjects and a sensitivity of 82% and specificity of 83% were obtained for nonkeratinized oral tissue. The diagnostic potential of multimodal platforms incorporating DSOS was explored through two pilot studies. A pilot study of DSOS in combination with widefield imaging was carried out in 29 oral cancer patients, resulting in a combined sensitivity of 94% and specificity of 69%. Widefield imaging and spectroscopy performed slightly better in combination than each method performed independently. A pilot study of DSOS in combination with the optical contrast agents 2-NBDG, EGF-Alexa 647, and proflavine was carried out in resected tissue specimens from 15 oral cancer patients. Improved contrast between neoplastic and healthy tissue was observed using 2-NBDG and EGF-Alexa 647.