In men, cancer most often attacked the lungs (16.7 percent) followed by the prostate (15 percent), colorectum (10 percent), stomach (8.5 percent), and liver (7.5 percent).
For women, cancer was most common in the breast (25.2 percent), colorectum (9.2 percent), lung (8.7 percent), cervix (7.9 percent) and stomach (4.8 percent).
There were also regional imbalances: more than 60 percent of the world's cancer cases and 70 percent of deaths occurred in Africa, Asia and Central and South America, said the World Cancer Report.
Measured as a proportion of the population, however, high-income countries in North America and western Europe as well as Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, had higher figures.
Cancers of the breast, colorectum and prostate were more typical of the industrialized world, said the report, and those of the liver, stomach and esophagus more common in low-income countries.
Almost half the new cases diagnosed in 2012 were in Asia, most of them in China, said the report. Europe had nearly a quarter of cases, the Americas about a fifth, and Africa and the Middle East just over eight percent.
But when it came to deaths, Asia's share jumped to more than 50 percent and that of Africa and the Middle East to nearly 10 percent, while the Americas' share shrank to under 16 percent and that of Europe to 21.4 percent.
Cancer is typically diagnosed at a more advanced stage in less developed countries, and treatment is less readily available, said the report.
Globally, lung cancer was the biggest killer with 19.4 percent of the total, followed by cancer of the liver with 9.1 percent and stomach with 8.8 percent.
The report said lung cancer was "inextricably linked to the global tactics of tobacco companies aiming to expand their sales."
A smoking "epidemic" was evolving in poor countries, it said, "potentially impeding human development by consuming scarce resources, increasing pressures on already weak health-care systems, and inhibiting national productivity."
The report said the total, annual economic cost of cancer to the world was estimated at about $1.16 trillion in 2010, "yet about half of all cancers could be avoided" through prevention, early detection and treatment.
Prevention includes vaccination against hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus, which can reduce cancers of the liver and cervix, the promotion of physical activity to counter obesity -- thought to be a factor in bowel and breast cancer, and tougher anti-tobacco campaigns.