Health groups are calling on the Government to help raise people's awareness of how to reduce their cancer risk, to mark World Cancer Day.
An estimated 13,000 cancer deaths could be prevented if the Government met a World Health Organisation's (WHO) target, campaigners said.
The two groups said around 157,000 people die of cancer every year in the UK - but 13,000 could be saved if the nation met the WHO's '25 by 25' target - reducing premature deaths by 25% by 2025.
A YouGov survey showed that 32% of respondents believed getting cancer was largely to due to fate and 28% thought that, aside from not smoking, there is little that can be done to prevent cancer.
Dr Kate Allen, WCRF executive director of science and public affairs, said: "These results are a real concern because they show that a significant proportion of people don't realise that there's a lot they can do to reduce their risk of cancer.
"By eating healthily, being physically active and keeping to a healthy weight, we estimate that about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented.
"Everyone has a role to play in preventing cancer but governments and health professionals are key to raising awareness and making it easier for individuals to change their lifestyle habits."
Currently, 7.6 million people die from cancer worldwide every year, of which, 4 million die prematurely (aged 30 to 69).
UICC and IARC estimate that 1.5 million lives could be saved if urgent action is taken to raise awareness about cancer and develop practical strategies to address the disease.
Otherwise, by 2025, this trend is projected to increase to six million premature cancer deaths per year.
AXA’s research found that 79% of people were able to correctly identify breast lumps as a potential indicator of cancer. But a lump or swelling in any part of the body, including the armpit, neck, abdomen, groin or chest area, is worth having checked by a doctor.
Diarrhoea or changes in bowel habits are most likely to be caused by a stomach bug or eating something that disagrees with you. But if you’re noticing changes that have lasted more than a few days, for example if your bowel movements are looser for three weeks or more, or you notice any blood when you’ve been to the toilet, then make an appointment to get it checked out.
A lot of people get mouth ulcers when their immune system is low or they’re stressed. Generally they’re nothing to worry about and, as the lining of the mouth regenerates itself every couple of weeks, shouldn’t last long. But any ulcer that hasn’t healed after three weeks merits attention from your doctor or dentist. The same goes for any sore or spot that lasts for several weeks without healing – get it checked by a doctor.
Many men find it more difficult to pass urine as they get older, needing to go more often or urgently or being unable to go when they need to. These problems are usually caused by an enlarged prostate, which is a common condition that is not in itself cause for concern. But occasionally these symptoms can be a sign of prostate cancer – either way, men experiencing these symptoms should see their GP. Similarly, while urinary tract infections are the most likely cause of women having pain or difficulty passing urine, this should pass relatively quickly. If it doesn’t, then any sudden urges to pass urine or the need to go more often should be discussed with your doctor.
It’s natural for most people’s weight to fluctuate over time. But if you haven’t instigated any changes in your diet or exercise regime and have obviously lost weight, then talk to your doctor. And if you’re experiencing heavy night sweats you should seek medical advice – these don’t always have a sinister cause, and can be brought about by certain infections or medications, but they’re worth checking.
If you’ve coughed up any blood, you should see your doctor, regardless of the amount of blood or frequency. It can be a sign of lung cancer, so needs to be checked out.
Most of us will experience coughs or croaky voices at some point, normally when we’ve had a cold. But as with many other changes to your body, anything that hasn’t gone away after three weeks or so should be investigated.
AXA’s research found women were more likely than men to identify key cancer warning signs, including breast lumps, changes in bowel habits and irregular moles. But for both men and women, ensuring you’re aware of symptoms to keep an eye out for is important. Knowledge is power: understanding what you’re looking for means you can any changes checked out quickly.
AXA’s research found only 6% of men and 3% of women check their bodies daily for anything unusual. But understanding what’s normal for your own body is essential if you’re to spot when anything has changed. If you do notice changes that are persisting for a long time, or causing you pain and discomfort, then see your GP.
A sizeable 61% of people AXA spoke to admitted they’d delayed seeing their doctor when they spotted changes that could be potential flags for cancer. But early detection of any problems can make a huge difference if any treatment is then needed. Similarly, if changes are harmless your doctor will be able to reassure you. Overall, the sooner you go to see your GP, the better.
"The estimate of 1.5 million lives lost per year to cancer that could be prevented must serve to galvanise our efforts in implementing the World Health Organisation's '25 by 25' target," said Dr Christopher Wild, director of IARC.
"There is now a need for a global commitment to help drive advancements in policy and encourage implementation of comprehensive National Cancer Control Plans.
"If we are to succeed in this, we have a collective responsibility to support low- and middle-income countries who are tackling a cancer epidemic with insufficient resources."
Cary Adams, CEO of UICC said: "This World Cancer Day UICC, its members and partners urge everyone from individuals to governments to take a stand against damaging myths on cancer.
"By truly understanding this deadly disease, governments can develop appropriate strategies to reduce premature deaths and reach the WHO '25 by 25' goal.
"The figures today announced by IARC and UICC reveal the fundamental human value of achieving this target - 1.5 million people saved from an early death due to cancer is equal to the entire populations of Philadelphia, Auckland, Barcelona or West Yorkshire each and every year."
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "Earlier diagnosis is key to improving survival rates from cancer which is why our Be Clear on Cancer campaigns aim to raise awareness about the symptoms of cancer and give people the confidence to tell their doctor if they think anything is wrong.
"Our cancer strategy is backed by £750 million over four years to tackle cancer, giving patients the best chances of being diagnosed earlier and getting the best treatment and care available.
"I am committed to improving survival rates, saving an additional 5,000 lives per year and making sure that cancer survivors have as good a quality of life as possible."