This study investigates the cancer literacy level in Korean adults and examines whether cancer literacy plays a mediating role in the relationship between population characteristics and cancer screening behaviours. We collected data from 585 community-dwelling adults in Korea using self-administered surveys and face-to-face interviews from October to December in 2009. Guided by Andersen's behavioural model, we used a structural equation model to estimate the effect of cancer literacy as a mediator and found that cancer literacy mediated cancer screening behaviour. In the individual path analysis models, cancer literacy played a significant mediating role for the use of eastern medicine, fatalism, health status and the number of chronic diseases. When controlling for other relevant covariates, we found that in the optimal path model, cancer literacy played a mediating role in the relationship between the use of eastern medicine and self-rated health status as well as cancer screening behaviour. Thus, developing community-based cancer education programmes and training clinical practitioners in eastern medicine clinics about the importance of informing their patients about regular cancer screening may be an option to boost cancer literacy and screening behaviour in Korea.