Skin cancer is the most frequently occurring cancer of all cancers. Each yea rover 500,000 new cases of skin cancer will be detected. A high percentage of skin cancers are diseases in which fatalities can be all but eliminated and morbidity reduced if detected early and treated properly. These skin lesions are distinguished generally by subjective visual inspection and their definitive diagnosis requires time-consuming expensive histopathological evaluation of excisional or incisional biopsies. In vivo experimental evidence published in the literature has shown that cancerous skin lesions have different total diffuse reflectance spectra than non- cancerous lesions or normal skin. Therefore, cancerous skin lesions may be differentiated from non-cancerous skin lesions by comparing the optical properties of the skin lesions with those of the surrounding normal skin sites, where the optical properties of the normal skin sites are used to account for different types of skin or different areas of skin. We have demonstrated that the effect of melanin concentration on the diffuse reflectance may be removed by extrapolating the reflectance at different wavelengths to an apparent pivot point. Because the concentration of melanin does not indicate malignancy, the removal of its effect is important to avoid false detection. The total diffuse reflectance depends on the albedo and anisotropy of tissues. Therefore, the total diffuse reflectance will remain the same as long as the anisotropy and the ratio between the absorption coefficient and the reduced scattering coefficient remain the same. Separating the absorption and scattering effects should enhance the detection sensitivity of skin cancers.© (1995) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.