The research, which involved academics at Queen's University, added that embarrassment is a barrier for almost a fifth of people upon noticing a potential symptom.
This was found to be significantly higher than other jurisdictions, in the study which compared differences in cancer awareness and beliefs between NI, England, Wales, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
A higher percentage of people here also said they worry about what the doctor might find - 30% compared to 20% in Norway.
Dr Anna Gavin, Director of Queen's NI Cancer Registry, said: "The good news for Northern Ireland is that overall, the study reported a high level of general knowledge regarding many symptoms and signs of cancer among people living here.
"Northern Ireland participants recognise 8.53 out of a possible 11 symptoms for cancer, with only Canada doing better than us.
"What is of concern, however, is that while 90% of NI people agreed that 'cancer can often be cured', only 70% disagreed with the statement 'a diagnosis of cancer is a death sentence.'
"This is important because there is evidence to suggest negative attitudes can be linked to delayed presentation."
Some of the possible symptoms of cancer include unexplained persistent pain, coughs, hoarseness, tiredness, sores that do not heal and night sweats.
However there is lower awareness of these in NI, particularly among groups including men, the very elderly and those with primary level education only.
Dr Gavin added that further work is needed to understand and address the barriers which prevent people from reporting symptoms as soon as they discover them.