We explore the effects of the illumination and collection geometry on optical spectroscopic diagnosis of breast cancer. Fluorescence and diffuse reflectance spectroscopy in the UV-visible spectral range are made with a multiseparation probe at three illumination-collection separations of 735, 980, and 1225 μm, respectively, from 13 malignant and 34 nonmalignant breast tissues. Statistical analysis is carried out on two types of data inputs: (1) the fluorescence and diffuse reflectance spectra recorded at each of the three illumination-collection separations and (2) the integrated fluorescence (at each excitation wavelength) or diffuse reflectance over the entire spectrum at all three illumination-collection separations. The results show that using the integrated fluorescence intensities recorded at a single excitation wavelength at all three illumination-collection separations can discriminate malignant from nonmalignant breast tissues with similar classification accuracy to that using spectral data measured at several excitation wavelengths with a single illumination-collection separation. These findings have significant implications with respect to the design of an optical system for breast cancer diagnosis. Examining the intensity attenuation at a single wavelength rather than spectral intensities at multiple wavelengths can significantly reduce the measurement and data processing time in a clinical setting as well as the cost and complexity of the optical system. © 2005 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.