The warning comes as the latest figures show that the number of cases worldwide is expected to rise by 75% in just 20 years.
In 2012 there were 14.1 million new cases of cancer around the globe but experts from the World Health Organisation's cancer body, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), predict that over the next two decades, the number of new cases each year will rise to 25 million. Over the same period, the number of deaths caused by cancer is predicted to rise from 8.2 million a year to 13 million.
The IARC's latest World Cancer Report states that "we cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem". More must be done to prevent cases altogether or to detect cases early on, the authors said.
They warned that even the richest countries would struggle to keep up with surging costs of treating cancer.
"Coupled with ageing populations and the spiralling costs of cancer treatment, increasing demands are placed on the healthcare budgets of even the wealthiest nations. As a result, prevention is central to reducing or reversing the rise in cancer burden, the report said."
Dr Christopher Wild, director of IARC and co-editor of the report, said: "Despite exciting advances, this report shows that we cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem.
"More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally."
The report authors said that tobacco legislation has been "critical" in reducing consumption through taxes, advertising restrictions, and other regulation.
They called for discussion on ways forward, which could include similar legislation on alcohol and sugary drinks.