Leading causes of death

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Cancer and heart disease, the two leading causes of death in Canada, were responsible for just over one-half (51%) of the 238,617 deaths in 2008.

For the first time, cancer was the leading cause of death in every province and territory. In 2007, it was the leading cause everywhere except Prince Edward Island and the Northwest Territories.

Heart disease was the second leading cause of death in every province and territory in 2008, except Nunavut where suicide ranked second.

Cancer accounted for 30% of all deaths in 2008, followed by heart disease (21%) and stroke (6%).

Ranked in order, the other seven leading causes of death were chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents (unintentional injuries), diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide.

These 10 leading causes accounted for 77% of all deaths in 2008, compared with 80% in 2000.

By age group, there were differences in the leading causes of death. Congenital abnormalities was the leading cause of death for infants under one year of age, accidents (unintentional injuries) for people aged 1 to 34, cancer for those aged 35 to 84 and heart disease for those aged 85 and over.

For young adults aged 15 to 24, the top three causes of death in order were accidents, suicide and homicide.

To control for the impact of population aging on death rates, comparisons over time are made using the "age-standardized mortality rate." This removes the impact of differences in the age structure of populations among areas and over time.

Between 2000 and 2008, age-standardized mortality rates were on a downward trend in general for all 10 leading causes of death. However, in 2008, age-standardized mortality rates for Alzheimer's disease increased 8% from 2007, as did the standardized rate for suicide, up 2%.

In 2008, 3,705 people committed suicide, up almost 3% from 2007. Of these, 2,777 were men, three times the total for women (928). Suicide was the second leading cause of death for men aged 15 to 44 and for women aged 15 to 24 and the third leading cause of death for women aged 25 to 44.

In 2008, 6,573 people died of Alzheimer's disease, up 11% from 2007. A total of 4,606 women died of Alzheimer's disease, more than twice the total for men (1,967).

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

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

The publication Leading Causes of Death in Canada, 2008 (84-215-X, free), is now available from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

For more information, or to order custom tabulations, contact Client Services (613-951-1746; fax: 613-951-4198 hd-ds@statcan.gc.ca). To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Dai, Shiang Ying (613-951-1759) or Patricia Schembari (613-951-9502), Health Statistics Division.