Worldwide incidence and mortality rates due to cancer continue to rise, with the burden of disease increasingly shifting to developing countries. Several optical diagnostic methods such as diffuse optical tomography, wide-field autofluorescence imaging, confocal microscopy, and optical coherence tomography, are currently under development to enable earlier detection of cancer. However, these are primarily intended for use in healthcare facilities in industrialized countries. Using knowledge gained from early clinical studies with these large-scale systems, we have designed and tested low-cost, portable versions of these instruments. We propose that these systems may be used for early diagnosis and screening in developing countries, and that pilot clinical studies are warranted in these low-resource settings.