© 2017 Background Poor diet and insufficient physical activity are strongly associated with an increased risk of several cancers. Preclinical studies suggest that lifestyle modifications may exert favorable effects on tumor biology. Randomized controlled trials in the presurgical setting serve as an ideal means to translate this research to humans; however, little is known about the characteristics of patients who enroll in these presurgical trials versus those who do not. Methods Screening databases from three presurgical lifestyle intervention trials for breast and prostate cancer patients conducted at Duke University Medical Center (NCT00049309) and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (NCT02224807 and NCT01886677) were combined for analysis. Demographic and anthropometric differences between enrolled vs. non-enrolled individuals were assessed using Chi-square for categorical variables and t-tests for continuous variables. Results There was no difference in participation rate when comparing minority status or overweight and obese patients. However, obese females were slightly more likely to enroll than women who were overweight (p = 0.110), a trend not seen in men. Women were also less likely than men to participate if their study site was >25 miles from their home (p = 0.034). Patients who had completed a college degree were somewhat less likely to enroll than those with less educational attainment (p = 0.072). Of those who did not enroll, 80% cited a lack of time. Conclusion Similar to other clinical trials, lack of time is a leading barrier to enrollment, and travel/distance appears to be a greater barrier for women in presurgical studies. Larger presurgical lifestyle intervention trials will require tailored strategies to enhance recruitment.