SMITHFIELD — The American Cancer Society is looking for 250 healthy people from Johnston and Wayne counties to take part in a decades-long nationwide cancer study.
The idea, said cancer society spokeswoman Rachel Urban, is to discover links between the disease and various risk factors. Researchers will draw blood from each study participant and give each one a physical, then over the next 20 to 30 years ask them periodically to fill out surveys detailing changes to their health and lifestyle.
The society hopes to enroll 300,000 people nationwide, and knows that some of them will contract cancer. Researchers plan to compare the genetics, lifestyles and living conditions of those who contract the disease with those who remain healthy.
The society chose Johnston and Wayne counties because they represent a cross-section of the American population. Urban said researchers want to see what effect – if any – agriculture and industry in those counties have on cancer risk.
The two counties also have high cancer mortality rates. The statewide rate, measured in deaths per 100,000 people, is around 180. In Johnston County, that number is 187; in Wayne County, it’s 201. Both counties have high death rates from colon, lung and breast cancer, and Wayne County’s prostate cancer mortality rate also is above the state average.
“We know there’s a lot of cancer in the area,” Urban said. “A lot of people have been affected.”
Kristal Kelley of Smithfield, a breast-cancer survivor, is trying to persuade her neighbors to take part in the study that could help researchers better understand the disease. Kelley has been cancer-free for 20 years now, but might not have gotten the treatment she needed if she hadn’t been persistent.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid-20s. At the time, it was seen as an older person’s disease.
“It took six months for them to hear what I was trying to tell them,” Kelley said. “I heard over and over again, ‘You’re 25; you can’t have cancer.’ ”
The study, known as CPS III, is the third nationwide cancer-prevention study conducted by the American Cancer Society. The first study, which began in the 1950s, established the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.
CPS II, conducted from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, linked obesity with high cancer mortality.
Researchers will be paying particularly close attention to waist size, Urban said, since new data suggest it might have some correlation with stomach, colon and gastrointestinal cancer.
Many people who contract those cancers seem to carry a disproportionate amount of weight along their waist and stomach, she said.
“That may be just as important as their actual weight … or body mass index,” Urban said.
All participants will be asked to complete a survey every two to five years. There are no financial incentives for participants; the cancer society is counting on people wanting to aid the fight against cancer.