While histopathology of excised tissue remains the gold standard for diagnosis, several new, non-invasive diagnostic techniques are being developed. They rely on physical and biochemical changes that precede and mirror malignant change within tissue. The basic principle involves simple optical techniques of tissue interrogation. Their accuracy, expressed as sensitivity and specificity, are reported in a number of studies suggests that they have a potential for cost effective, real-time, in situ diagnosis. We review the Third Scientific Meeting of the Head and Neck Optical Diagnostics Society held in Congress Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria on the 11th May 2011. For the first time the HNODS Annual Scientific Meeting was held in association with the International Photodynamic Association (IPA) and the European Platform for Photodynamic Medicine (EPPM). The aim was to enhance the interdisciplinary aspects of optical diagnostics and other photodynamic applications. The meeting included 2 sections: oral communication sessions running in parallel to the IPA programme and poster presentation sessions combined with the IPA and EPPM posters sessions. © 2011 Jerjes et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.