Laser Optoacoustic Imaging System (LOIS) combines high tissue contrast based on the optical properties of tissue and high spatial resolution based on ultrawide-band ultrasonic detection. Patients undergoing thermal or photodynamic therapy of prostate cancer may benefit from capability of LOIS to detect and monitor treatment-induced changes in tissue optical properties and blood flow. The performance of a prototype LOIS was evaluated via 2D optoacoustic images of dye-colored objects of various shapes, small tubes with blood simulating veins and arteries, and thermally coagulated portions of chicken breasts imbedded tissue-mimicking gelatin phantoms. The optoacoustic image contrast was proportional to the ratio of the absorption coefficient between the embedded objects and the surrounding gel. The contrast of the venous blood relative to the background exceeded 250%, and the contrast of the thermally coagulated portions of flesh relative to the untreated tissue ranged between -100% to +200%, dependent on the optical wavelength. We used a 32-element optoacoustic transducer array and a novel design of low-noise preamplifiers and wide-band amplifiers to perform these studies. The system was optimized for imaging at a depth of ~50 mm. The system spatial resolution was better than 1-mm. The advantages and limitations of various signal-processing methods were investigated. LOIS demonstrates clinical potential for non- or minimally-invasive monitoring of treatment-induced tissue changes.© (2004) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.