Around half of Britons don't recognise the importance of diet in protecting against cancer, demonstrating that many of the myths about the disease are still widely believed.

The YouGov poll commissioned by World Cancer Research Fund for World Cancer Day found that 49 per cent do not know that diet affects people's risk of getting cancer. Other results show that a high proportion of people do not know about the links between cancer and body weight (59 per cent), processed meat (62 per cent) and physical activity (66 per cent).

A third (34 per cent) incorrectly believe that the chances of getting cancer are mainly due to family history of the disease even though only five to ten per cent of cancers are linked to inherited genes.

Amanda McLean, World Cancer Research Fund's General Manager, said: "On World Cancer Day 2014 it's very alarming to see that such a large number of people don't know that there's a lot they can do to significantly reduce their risk of getting cancer. We would like all sectors of society - including the government, manufacturers, retailers and charities - work together to raise cancer prevention awareness.

"In the UK, about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented through being a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and being regularly physically active. These results show that many people still seem to mistakenly accept their chances of getting cancer as a throw of the dice. But by making lifestyle changes today, we can help prevent cancer tomorrow."

World Cancer Research Fund, alongside the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), is working to dispel the myth that cancer is unavoidable and let people know there is a lot they can do to prevent cancer. The following steps will help to reduce the risk of developing cancer:

  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruit, pulses and wholegrains. Limit alcohol and red meat and try to cut out processed meat.
  • Keep your weight at a healthy level (a BMI of between 18.5 and 25). Being overweight is the biggest cancer risk factor after smoking.
  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. This can be divided over the day and can be any activity that increases your breathing and heart rate - even housework counts.

Sharing World Cancer Research Fund's research-based 10 Recommendations for Cancer Prevention with friends and family could help cut their risk of cancer. The recommendations were developed by a panel of world-renowned scientists, after considering a detailed report on the links between lifestyle and cancer that examined all relevant scientific evidence.

The survey on British understanding of cancer risk comes as the UICC announces that cancer as a single entity is now the world's biggest cause of death, with 8.2million deaths a year. The number of global cancer cases diagnosed every year has risen by 11 per cent since 2008 to more than 14million new cases a year.

Cary Adams, Chief Executive Officer at UICC, said: "Governments around the world, including the UK, must recognise the growing cancer burden in their country and act on it now. On World Cancer Day, we demand that health leaders commit to reducing the millions of predicted, needless and premature deaths caused by cancer by focusing efforts and funds on proven preventive and early detection measures."