We have developed a novel parallel-plate diffuse optical tomography (DOT) system for three-dimensional in vivo imaging of human breast tumor based on large optical data sets. Images of oxy-, deoxy-, and total hemoglobin concentration as well as blood oxygen saturation and tissue scattering were reconstructed. Tumor margins were derived using the optical data with guidance from radiology reports and magnetic resonance imaging. Tumor-to-normal ratios of these endogenous physiological parameters and an optical index were computed for 51 biopsy-proven lesions from 47 subjects. Malignant cancers showed statistically significant higher total hemoglobin, oxy-hemoglobin concentration, and scattering compared to normal tissue. Furthermore, malignant lesions exhibited a twofold average increase in optical index. The influence of core biopsy on DOT results was also explored; the difference between the malignant group measured before core biopsy and the group measured more than after core biopsy was not significant. Benign tumors did not exhibit statistical significance in the tumor-to-normal ratios of any parameter. Optical index and tumor-to-normal ratios of total hemoglobin, oxy-hemoglobin concentration, and scattering exhibited high area under the receiver operating characteristic curve values from 0.90 to 0.99, suggesting good discriminatory power. The data demonstrate that benign and malignant lesions can be distinguished by quantitative three-dimensional DOT.