Reduce the Risk uses posters and leaflets to urge people to stop smoking, stay in shape, eat and drink healthily, protect against the sun and get to know their bodies - which entails visiting their GP if they notice any unusual physical changes.
The charity is sending 1 million posters and leaflets to GP surgeries and hospitals. Another 500,000 leaflets will be sent to runners in the charity's Race for Life summer fundraising event.
The campaign emerged after Cancer Research UK commissioned the British Market Research Bureau to survey 4,000 people last year. The results revealed alarmingly high levels of public ignorance about how to reduce the risk of cancer.
About 66 per cent of those polled were unaware that being overweight increased the risk of some cancers, and 67 per cent did not know that a diet low in fruit and vegetables could raise their chance of getting the disease.
Only 34 per cent knew that drinking less alcohol could reduce the risk. The same percentage thought that stress was linked to cancer, despite a lack of strong scientific evidence of such a link.
"There is no magic pill to prevent us getting the disease," said Alex Markham, the chief executive at Cancer Research UK. "But there are many things we can all do daily to improve our chances of avoiding it."
He said those surveyed generally knew that smoking and sunburn increased the risk of cancer, but there was much less awareness about obesity and diet.
The charity hopes the campaign will help establish it as the leading supporter of research on cancer risk and prevention.
"The first year of the campaign will raise public consciousness of the fact that contracting cancer is not in the lap of the gods," said Sara Hyam, head of health information at Cancer Research UK. "But we are not trying to create a blame culture."
Although the campaign is aimed initially at a broad audience, the messages will be refined in the coming months to focus on specific target groups.
Campaign materials will be sent to public swimming pools, leisure complexes and shopping centres next month, and flyers describing cancer signs and symptoms will give people an idea of what to look out for.
The charity has budgeted £200,000 for the campaign in 2005 and £240,000 for 2006. It will search for corporate sponsors to boost that figure and plans to link up with other charities to focus on specific cancers.