Diffuse optical imaging (DOI) is a noninvasive optical technique that employs near-infrared (NIR) light to quantitatively characterize the optical properties of thick tissues. Although NIR methods were first applied to breast transillumination (also called diaphanography) nearly 80 years ago, quantitative DOI methods employing time- or frequency-domain photon migration technologies have only recently been used for breast imaging (i.e., since the mid-1990s). In this review, the state of the art in DOI for breast cancer is outlined and a multi-institutional Network for Translational Research in Optical Imaging (NTROI) is described, which has been formed by the National Cancer Institute to advance diffuse optical spectroscopy and imaging (DOSI) for the purpose of improving breast cancer detection and clinical management. DOSI employs broadband technology both in near-infrared spectral and temporal signal domains in order to separate absorption from scattering and quantify uptake of multiple molecular probes based on absorption or fluorescence contrast. Additional dimensionality in the data is provided by integrating and co-registering the functional information of DOSI with x-ray mammography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which provide structural information or vascular flow information, respectively. Factors affecting DOSI performance, such as intrinsic and extrinsic contrast mechanisms, quantitation of biochemical components, image formation/visualization, and multimodality co-registration are under investigation in the ongoing research NTROI sites. One of the goals is to develop standardized DOSI platforms that can be used as stand-alone devices or in conjunction with MRI, mammography, or ultrasound. This broad-based, multidisciplinary effort is expected to provide new insight regarding the origins of breast disease and practical approaches for addressing several key challenges in breast cancer, including: Detecting disease in mammographically dense tissue, distinguishing between malignant and benign lesions, and understanding the impact of neoadjuvant chemotherapies.