The complete surgical removal of disease is a desirable outcome particularly in oncology. Unfortunately much disease is microscopic and difficult to detect causing a liability to recurrence and worsened overall prognosis with attendant costs in terms of morbidity and mortality. It is hoped that by advances in optical diagnostic technology we could better define our surgical margin and so increase the rate of truly negative margins on the one hand and on the other hand to take out only the necessary amount of tissue and leave more unaffected non-diseased areas so preserving function of vital structures. The task has not been easy but progress is being made as exemplified by the presentations at the 2nd Scientific Meeting of the Head and Neck Optical Diagnostics Society (HNODS) in San Francisco in January 2010. We review the salient advances in the field and propose further directions of investigation.