In breast cancer diagnosis and therapy monitoring, there is a need for frequent, noninvasive disease progression evaluation. Breast tumors differ from healthy tissue in mechanical stiffness as well as optical properties, which allows optical methods to detect and monitor breast lesions noninvasively. Spatial frequency-domain imaging (SFDI) is a reflectance-based diffuse optical method that can yield two-dimensional images of absolute optical properties of tissue with an inexpensive and portable system, although depth penetration is limited. Since the absorption coefficient of breast tissue is relatively low and the tissue is quite flexible, there is an opportunity for compression of tissue to bring stiff, palpable breast lesions within the detection range of SFDI. Sixteen breast tissue-mimicking phantoms were fabricated containing stiffer, more highly absorbing tumor-mimicking inclusions of varying absorption contrast and depth. These phantoms were imaged with an SFDI system at five levels of compression. An increase in absorption contrast was observed with compression, and reliable detection of each inclusion was achieved when compression was sufficient to bring the inclusion center within ∼12 mm of the phantom surface. At highest compression level, contrasts achieved with this system were comparable to those measured with single source–detector near-infrared spectroscopy.