The world is facing a “tidal wave” of cancer, the World Health Organization says in a new report, warning that obesity and poor diet are two of the biggest culprits in rising cancer rates, but warning that many people are still unaware of the risks they pose.

The WHO’s World Cancer Report 2014 said that new cancer cases in 2012 rose to about 14 million globally, and in 20 years from now the world will likely see about 22 million new cancer cases per year.

The report warns, however, that there is an “alarming” level of naivete about the role diet and obesity play in cancer development. While smoking rates in many parts of the world have been steadily decreasing over the last several decades, obesity is on a steady rise.

One poll, conducted in 2009 by the Canadian Cancer Society, showed that nearly 73 per cent of Canadians were not aware of a definite link between cancer and lack of exercise; more than two-thirds did not appear to be aware of the link between cancer and being overweight.

A more recent survey in the in the U.K. suggested 49 per cent of the public did not know that poor diet increases the risk of developing cancer.

“There is definitely evidence that what we eat, the diet we have, is linked to different types of cancer,” Dr. Mario Chevrette, scientific director at the Cancer Research Society, told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. “We know that … lack of exercise and obesity will increase your odds of getting cancer.”

But Chevrette says there is no perfect diet or lifestyle that will entirely eliminate a person’s risk, and the reality is that many people are genetically predisposed to the disease -- he says that’s why some people who smoke all their lives never get cancer, and some who live healthy lifestyles do.

“There’s no doubt that there are things you can do though on a everyday basis that will decrease the chances of getting cancer,” he said. “But will we have, one day, a world without cancer? I don’t think so. Cancer by all means is a disease of people who are getting older. Most of the cancers occur when people are 50 years and older.”

The Canadian Cancer Society released a statement on Tuesday -- to mark World Cancer Day -- saying that half of all cancers can be prevented through healthy living. The non-profit says people can significantly reduce their chances of getting cancer by eating more vegetables, fruit and fibre, and through daily exercise, keeping a healthy body weight, drinking less alcohol, and quitting smoking.