With the rapid development of biomarkers and new technologies, large-scale biologically-based cohort studies present expanding opportunities for population-based research on disease etiology and early detection markers. The prostate, lung, colorectal and ovarian cancer (PLCO) screening trial is a large randomized trial designed to determine if screening for these cancers leads to mortality reduction for these diseases. Within the Trial, the PLCO etiology and early marker study (EEMS) identifies risk factors for cancer and other diseases and evaluates biologic markers for the early detection of disease. EEMS includes 155,000 volunteers who provide basic risk factor information. Serial blood samples are collected at each of six screening rounds (including one collection for cryopreserved whole blood) from screening arm participants (77,000 subjects) and buccal cells are collected from those in the control arm of the trial. Etiologic studies consider environmental (e.g., diet), biochemical, and genetic factors. Early detection studies focus on blood-based biologic markers of early disease. Clinical epidemiology is also an important component of the PLCO trial.