If you're like me, you read about studies all the time and wonder who participates in them.

How to sign up

What: The American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention Study III.Who: The study seeks participants who are between ages 30 and 65 and have never been diagnosed with cancer, with the exception of squamous and basal cell skin cancer, for a long-term study.Requirements: Blood samples and waist measurements will be taken at the locations listed below. Also, participants will be asked to sign a consent form and fill out a brief health survey this month and every two years.When: Various times, Jan. 29-Feb. 1.Where: Roper-St. Francis Hospital, Medical University of South Carolina, East Cooper Medical Center, Trident Health System, the Jewish Community Center and Seacoast Church in Summerville.Register: Call (888) 604-5888 or visit at cps3charleston.org.

But the American Cancer Society, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, wants you to be in a massive, long-term study, as long as you're between the ages of 30 and 65 and don't have a cancer history.

For a few years, society divisions have been in the process of finding at least 330,000 across the country for the national study, Cancer Prevention Study III.

It's the least many of us can do. After all, two generations before us participated in studies that have discovered lifestyle habits that we now know can lead to cancer.

Who knew?

The first two prevention studies, which involved a total of 2.2 million people, helped find the ties between smoking, obesity, poor diet, inactivity and air pollution to numerous forms of cancer.

Dr. Dave Marshall, a radiation oncologist at MUSC's Hollings Cancer Center, says the long-term studies give invaluable information to researchers and that the society's previous studies have led to 300 different scientific publications by society epidemiologists.

“The only group that can feasibly do this kind of study, which is a Herculean effort, is the American Cancer Society. The whole point is to get a huge selection of diverse groups of people in different parts of the country,” Marshall says.

Locally, the South Atlantic Division office in North Charleston is looking for at least 800 volunteers to represent the Charleston area in the study. Volunteers must be between the ages of 30 and 65 and never been diagnosed with cancer. People who have had squamous and basal cell skin cancer are allowed.

Fronde Merchant, the society's mission delivery manager, says the group has interest, but that more people are needed. As of last week, fewer than 400 had signed up.

“If your family has been touched by cancer and you want to help prevent this for others in the future, please set up a time to enroll in CPS-3.”

Minimal effort

The effort is part of a national one to get and track at least 330,000 over the next 20 years. All that's involved is registering for enrollment in advance and going to one of a half-dozen sites Jan. 29-Feb. 1 to give a small amount of blood and have your waistline measured. Participants will be asked to fill out a health survey, either on-site or online, and sign a consent form. The cancer society will ask for follow-up surveys to be filled out every two years.

“People often wonder what they can do personally to join the war on cancer,” says Amy Ethridge, executive director of South Atlantic division. “This is a way to fight back.”

For the future

Fran Hanebrink, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, believes strongly that people should step forward to participate in the study.

“Everyone's been great about raising money for cancer research and awareness, but this is the next level of being involved,” says Hanebrink, a stay-at-home mom who recently moved to Summerville from Virginia.

In Virginia, Hanebrink volunteered to sign up participants at two Relay for Life events and believes the next study will lead to more findings for future generations.

Marshall agreed. “This study is more for our children and our children's children than us.”

The study's principal investigator, Alpa Patel, says that many individuals diagnosed with cancer struggle to answer the question, “What caused my cancer?”

“In many cases, we don't know the answer, but CPS-III will help us better understand what factors cause cancer, and once we know that, we can be better equipped to prevent cancer. ... CPS III holds the best hope of identifying new and emerging cancer risks, and we can only do this if members of the community are willing to become involved.”

Tobacco & obesity

The previous two cancer prevention studies provided ground-breaking data, Ethridge says.

The first one, held 1959-72, came on the heels of the landmark Hammond-Horn Study, which looked at 188,000 men and examined the effect of cigarette smoking on death rates from cancer and other diseases.

Hammond-Horn set the methodological foundation for the next two cancer prevention studies.

Cancer Prevention Study I included a whopping 1 million men and women, recruited by 68,000 volunteers in 25 states, and further addressed tobacco use and other lifestyle factors that affected cancer risks.

Ethridge noted that this was at a time when even the cancer society's board room was filled with smokers.

The second prevention study, starting in 1982 and still under way, included 1.2 million subjects in all 50 states. According to the society's Research and Training Program Report in 2011, CPS-II took into consideration lifestyle and environmental factors.

Ethridge adds that it eventually demonstrated the tie between obesity and inactivity and several cancers.

“This one is essentially a continuation. Many of those who volunteered in the '80s are now aging out and we need a fresh group of people to follow. Besides the way we live today, the foods we eat and the drugs we take, is different today than it was 30 years ago.”

To enroll in the study click here.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postandcourier.com.