Cancer will affect 50% of children born today at some stage in their life, according to new data from Cancer Research.
Previous estimates predicted one in three people would develop cancer, eventually becoming one in two.
In the UK, the cancer survival rate has doubled since 1970, with half of patients surviving the disease for more than a decade following diagnosis.
However, cancer rates are expected to rise as more people live longer lives due to improvements in healthcare.
Study author, Professor Peter Sasieni, said: “Cancer is usually found in the elderly, with more than 60% of cases in people aged over 65.
“Reducing alcohol consumption, giving up smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking can all make the chance of cancer less likely.”
The NHS was warned it must invest in services if it is to be fit to cope with the number of age-related healthcare issues by the newly appointed chair of the NHS Cancer Taskforce, Harpal Kumar.
“We need to ensure the health service is adequately funded to deal effectively with the increasing pressures of cancer,” said Kumar.
“More than four in ten cancers diagnosed every year can be prevented by lifestyle changes.”
Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), Dr Maureen Baker, said: “For the first time ever, the number of people living with cancer is equal to those dying from it. This is a great achievement but UK survival rates are still lagging behind the European average.
“There is always more that can be done and we need to look into innovative ways of speeding up cancer diagnoses. Giving GPs direct, rapid access to diagnostic tools such as CT and MRI scans and ultrasound is something the RCGP has been and will continue to call for.
“Timely diagnosis of cancer is a priority for the RCGP and we need significant investment in general practice, including more GPs, so we can ensure patients receive the care they need at every stage of their condition.”
Public affairs manager at Macmillan, Ellie Rose, said: “Whichever party is voted in at this year’s election will need to make sure the NHS is ready to support the colossal wave of people who will be diagnosed with cancer during their time in power.
Macmillan is calling on all political parties to urgently prioritise cancer care in their manifestos.
“This is not just about improving the quality of diagnosis and treatment, but also about ensuring that every single person with cancer is treated with the highest levels of dignity and respect,” said Rose.
Labour Shadow Health Minister, Liz Kendall, said: “This research is a wake-up call to us all. It calls for boldness from political parties to address the challenge of cancer as we all live for longer.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Cancer survival rates are now at their highest ever level, and we are on track to save an extra 12,000 lives this year.
“Cases of cancer are likely to rise with an ageing population – so we are focused on earlier diagnosis, improving care and tackling preventable cancer.
“We have spent an extra £750 million on cancer services and have given local authorities £8.2 billion over three years to tackle public health issues, such as smoking, obesity and alcohol abuse, which are risk factors.”