Screening X-ray mammography is limited by false positives and negatives leading to unnecessary physical and psychological morbidity. Diffuse Optical Imaging using harmless near infra red light, provides lesion detection based on functional abnormalities and represents a novel diagnostic arm that could complement traditional mammography. Reviews of optical breast imaging have not been systematic, are focused mainly on technological developments, and have become superseded by rapid technological advancement. The aim of this study is to review clinically orientated studies involving approximately 2,000 women in whom optical mammography has been used to evaluate the healthy or diseased breast. The results suggest that approximately 85% of breast lesions are detectable on optical mammography. Spectroscopic resolution of tissue haemoglobin composition and oxygen saturation may improve the detectability of breast diseases. Results suggest that breast lesions contain approximately twice the haemoglobin concentration of background tissue. Current evidence suggests that it is not possible to distinguish benign from malignant disease using optical imaging techniques in isolation. Methods to improve the performance of Diffuse Optical Imaging, such as better spectral coverage with additional wavelengths, improved modelling of light transport in tissues and the use of extrinsic dyes may augment lesion detection and characterisation. Future research should involve large clinical trials to determine the overall sensitivity and specificity of optical imaging techniques as well as to establish patient satisfaction and economic viability.