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Leading causes of death

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2000 to 2004

Cancer and heart disease, the two leading causes of death for Canadians, were responsible for just over one-half (52.4%) of all deaths in 2004. However, the leading causes of death varied widely by age group.

Of 226,584 deaths in 2004, cancer accounted for 29.5% and heart disease, 22.9%. The proportion for cancer was up slightly from 2000, while the proportion for heart disease declined. Stroke, the third leading cause, was responsible for 6.5%.

These were followed in order by chronic lower respiratory diseases, unintentional injuries (accidents), diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, Alzheimer's disease, suicide and kidney disease.

Among young adults, however, it was a different story. In the age groups 15 to 24 and 25 to 34, unintentional injuries (accidents) were by far the leading cause of death, followed by suicide. Cancer placed third for both groups.

The relative burden of cancer and heart disease also had different patterns across age groups. They did not become the top two leading causes until the age group 45 to 54.

The relative burden of cancer reached its highest level for individuals aged 55 to 64, when it accounted for almost half (47.7%) of all deaths. The proportion of deaths due to cancer declined for those aged 65 to 74 (43.3%), then fell sharply to 14.5% for those aged 85 and older.

In contrast, the relative burden of heart disease increased steadily as the population aged. It surpassed the relative burden of cancer deaths at the age of 85 and older.

Mortality rates down for both cancer, heart disease

To eliminate the impact of population aging on death rates, comparisons over time are made using age-standardized mortality rates. Thus, these comparisons reflect the actual changes in mortality.

Between 2000 and 2004, age-standardized mortality rates declined for all 10 leading causes of death, except for diabetes, influenza and pneumonia. Rates for cancer were down 3.7%, while those for heart disease fell 16.6%.

Top three causes of death same for men and women

Men and women shared the same 10 leading causes of death in 2004, although not in the same order. For both, the top three were cancer, heart disease and stroke, which remained unchanged between 2000 and 2004.

In 2004, the ranking for three other causes (diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease) was also the same for both sexes.

Differences between sexes were observed in the ranking of unintentional injuries and suicide. Unintentional injuries were the fourth leading cause of death among men, but seventh among women. Suicide was the seventh leading cause among men, but tenth for women.

Note to readers

Since reference year 2000, causes of death are coded to the 10th revision of the World Health Organization's International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10). From the approximately 8,000 ICD-10 codes valid for underlying causes of death, aggregated groups of causes of death were developed to summarize and to rank the leading causes of death. The methodology used to select the rankable causes was developed by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Previous leading causes of death publications of Statistics Canada were based on earlier versions of International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD).

There were also important differences between the sexes in the number of deaths for certain leading causes of death in 2004. In the case of suicide, there were three times more suicides among men than among women, while 7 out of every 10 of deaths from Alzheimer's disease were women.

Infant deaths

As has been the case since 2000, congenital abnormalities and short gestation were the two leading causes of infant death. Together they were responsible for 37.4% of 1,775 deaths of children younger than one year old in 2004.

Canada-US comparison

Cancer outranked heart disease as the most common cause of death in Canada in 2004. However, in the United States, the ranking of these causes was reversed.

In the United States, about 23% of all deaths were attributed to cancer, compared with about 30% in Canada. Conversely, 27% of all deaths were attributed to heart disease in the United States, compared with 23% in Canada. Stroke was the third-leading cause in both countries.

Suicide outranked homicide as a leading cause of deaths among young adults aged 15 to 24 in Canada, while homicide ranked higher than suicide in the United States.

In Canada, suicide and homicide were the second and fourth leading causes of youth death. On the other hand, homicide was the second leading cause of youth death and suicide the third in the United States.

Available on CANSIM: tables 102-0561 to 102-0563.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey numbers, including related surveys, 3231 and 3233.

The Leading Causes of Death in Canada, 2000 to 2004 (84-215-XWE, free), is now available from the Publications module of our website.

For general information, contact Client Services (613-951-1746; fax: 613-951-4198;, Health Statistics Division.

To enquire about the concepts, methods and data quality of this release, contact Shiang Ying Dai (613-951-1759) or Patricia Schembari (951-9502), Health Statistics Division.

Table 1
Ranking and number of deaths for the 10 leading causes, Canada

Table 2
Sex ratio, ranking, number and percentage of male and female deaths for the 10 leading causes, Canada, 2004