- Summary The present study focuses on evaluating the potential of flattened AgClBr fibre-optic evanescent wave spectroscopy (FTIR-FEWS) technique for detection and identification of cancer cells in vitro using cell culture as a model system. The FTIR-FEWS results are compared to those from FTIR-microspectroscopy (FTIR-MSP) method extensively used to identify spectral properties of intact cells. Ten different samples of control and malignant cells were measured in parallel by the above two methods. Our results show a significant similarity between the results obtained by the two methodologies. The absorbance level of Amide I/Amide II, phosphates and carbohydrates were significantly altered in malignant compared to the normal cells using both systems. Thus, common biomarkers such as Amide I/Amide II, phosphate and carbohydrate levels can be derived to discern between normal and cancer cells. However, marked differences are also noted between the two methodologies in the protein bands due to CH3 bending vibration (1480–1350 cm−1). The spectral differences may be attributed to the variation in the penetration depth of the two methodologies. The use of flattened fibre rather than the standard cylindrical fibre has several practical advantages and is considered as an important step towards in vivo measurements in real time, such as that of skin nevi and melanoma using special designs of fibre-optic–based sensors.