Cancer is most common in older people, yet a poll for World Cancer Research Fund has revealed that those over the age of 55 are less aware of four major cancer risk factors than 18-24 year olds.
While it's "encouraging" that many younger adults are aware of cancer risks associated with being overweight, drinking alcohol, eating a poor diet and not being physically active, it is "worrying" that those more at risk are less aware, the charity said.
Nearly two thirds of cancer diagnoses occur in the over 65s and one third in people aged 75 and over. It has been estimated that by 2020 there will be nearly two million people aged 65 and over alive following a diagnosis of cancer.
The results have been released in order to raise awareness of cancer risk factors to mark World Cancer Day.
The poll of more than 2,000 adults found that 42% of people over the age of 55 are aware of the cancer risks associated with physical inactivity compared to 49% of 18-24 year olds.
A total of 53% of over 55s are aware of the cancer risks associated with alcohol compared to 60% of 18-24 year olds and 56% of over 55s are aware of the cancer risks associated with eating a poor diet compared to 60% of 18-24 year olds.
World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented through choosing a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight – about 84,000 cases a year in the UK. A lifestyle change is never too late.
Commenting on the findings, Amanda McLean, director at World Cancer Research Fund, said: "It is worrying that the over-55s are the least aware of a number of cancer risks especially as the risk of cancer increases with age. The good news is that people can reduce that risk by having a healthy lifestyle.
"Getting older doesn’t mean there’s nothing that can be done - it’s never too late to make simple but important changes.
"Just cutting out sugar from tea, eating a home cooked meal instead of a takeaway or walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift can all help. The more small changes people make, the healthier they will become."
This year’s World Cancer Day theme is ‘We Can. I Can’, which encourages members of the public to take action to help prevent cancer.
The campaign is designed to help people to make healthy and simple lifestyle changes that could reduce their cancer risk. You can sign up to receive email tips on weight, diet, alcohol and physical activity by visiting the website.
Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison, commented: "Prevention is key. A third of the most common cancers can be prevented by making small lifestyle changes and keeping a healthy weight.
"It's good to see growing awareness in some age groups of the benefits of being a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and limiting how much alcohol we drink - and it's never too late to kick start a healthier lifestyle."