If there's good news about cancer, it's that since its peak in 1991 in the United States, death rates have fallen by 20 percent.
The bad news? The American Cancer Society projects that an estimated 1.6 million new cancer diagnoses will be made this year in the U.S., and 580,000 Americans will die of the disease.
In an effort to eventually bring down these numbers, the cancer society is launching a massive prevention trial called Cancer Prevention Study-3, or CPS-3.
Organizers visited Sacramento last week to start recruiting large numbers of local volunteers to participate in a nationwide grass-roots effort to learn more about the causes of cancer.
The study's 300,000 or more participants will be in it for the long haul – 20 to 30 years of surveys to fill out every few years, recording their lifestyle habits, environmental factors and genetics.
Study subjects will have to agree to get their blood drawn and stored, have their waistlines measured and fill out a detailed baseline survey for the American Cancer Society's Department of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research.
Cancer society officials said the length and breadth of the study will produce useful information for researchers trying to crack the code of cancer prevention.
"This is research that is controlled – a sound, solid study to find out the links between behavior and cancer," said Brian Shaw, a cancer society representative who presented his case to about 25 people gathered in Sacramento last week for sign-up information.
This is the third large-scale cancer-prevention study the American Cancer Society has launched in more than six decades.
The first, CPS-1, was conducted in the 1950s. It is credited for making the link between smoking and lung cancer, resulting in the original surgeon general's warning against tobacco use.
The second, CPS-2, discovered the cause-and-effect relationship between obesity and cancer.
Moon Chen is a professor and associate director of Population Research and Cancer Disparities at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Chen said the three CPS studies, each tracking hundreds of thousands of people, offer invaluable bodies of research that cannot be uncovered in clinical trials.
"CPS-3 is a very important study," Chen said. "This is the opportunity to study people as they are, living where they live.
"To study living human populations – as opposed to using laboratory situations and rats where there are so many artificial controls – makes CPS-3 very valuable in tracking real-world living conditions," Chen said. "And including so many people of diverse backgrounds makes this a true American study."
Recruiters are looking for a diverse population of people age 30 to 65 who have never had a cancer diagnosis to sign up for CPS-3.
The reason for the age range, officials said, is that people younger than 30 may not have had enough life experiences to report, and those older than 65 may not remember details well enough to establish a baseline survey.
One person poised to sign up at last week's Sacramento meeting was Linda Krugman, 56, of Sacramento's Arden Park neighborhood. Krugman lost her father, a physician, to pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest types of the disease. The disease has also touched others in her life.
"I have a couple of friends with breast cancer. My ex-brother-in-law's sister died of breast cancer," Krugman said. "My brother-in-law lost his mother to colon cancer."
Lizette McKinley of Sacramento is a two-year breast cancer survivor who was fortunate enough to have the disease detected at its earliest phase. She joined the presentation to encourage people to commit to the prevention study.
"If you could prevent even one other person or family member from having cancer by taking part in this study, it's more than worth it," McKinley said.
For those wishing to participate, information is available at www.cancer.org/cps3. The website lists a number of locations where people can enroll April 10-20.