The high fatality rate associated with the late detection of skin cancer makes early detection crucial in preventing death. The current method for determining if a skin lesion is suspect to cancer is initially based on the patient’s and physician’s subjective observation of the skin lesion. Physicians use a set of parameters called the ABCD (asymmetry, border, color, diameter) rule to help facilitate diagnosis of potential cancerous lesions. Lesions that are suspicious then require a biopsy, which is a painful, invasive, and a time-consuming procedure. In an attempt to reduce the aforementioned undesirable elements currently associated with skin cancer diagnosis, a novel optical polarization-imaging system is described that has the potential to noninvasively detect cancerous lesions. The described system generates the full 16-element Mueller matrix in less than 70 s. The operation of the system was tested in transmission, specular reflection, and diffuse reflectance modes, using known samples, such as a horizontal linear polarizer, a mirror, and a diffuser plate. In addition, it was also used to image a benign lesion on a human subject. The results of the known samples are in good agreement with their theoretical values with an average accuracy of 97.96% and a standard deviation of 0.0084, using 16 polarization images. The system accuracy was further increased to 99.44% with a standard deviation of 0.005, when 36 images were used to generate the Mueller matrix. © 2002 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.