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Mortality, Summary List of Causes


Life expectancy at birth for both men and women reached a record high in 2003, according to new mortality data.

Combined, life expectancy at birth/ for men and women went up from 79.7 years in 2002 to an all-time high of 79.9 years.

Both sexes contributed to this gain. Life expectancy at birth for women in 2003 rose 0.3 years from the previous year, putting their life expectancy at an unprecedented high of 82.4 years.

Life expectancy at birth for men in 2003 also rose to a record high of 77.4, up 0.2 years from the previous year. This increase was slightly lower than the increase for women.

As a result, the gap between male and female life expectancy widened very slightly in 2003 to 5.0 years from 4.9 years in 2002.

The widest gap between male and female life expectancy in the last quarter century was in 1979, at 7.4 years. From 1979 to 2003, the gap narrowed as life expectancy for men improved by 6.0 years, whereas life expectancy for women advanced 3.6 years.

Over this 24-year period, men gained on average one year of life expectancy every four calendar years, while women gained on average one year of life expectancy every 6.7 calendar years.

Provincially, life expectancy in 2003 for both sexes combined was highest in British Columbia and Ontario.

Number of deaths on rise as population ages

The number of deaths has been on an upward trend for a number of years, the result of a growing and aging population. In 2003, a total of 226,169 people died in Canada, up 1.2% from 223,603 the year before. In the same period, Canada’s population grew by 1.0%.

The number of deaths rose in every province and territory, except for Prince Edward Island, Quebec and the Yukon, where the number of deaths declined.

Decline in age-standardized mortality rate

To control for the impact of population aging on death rates, comparisons over time are made using the “age-standardized mortality rate.” The age-standardized mortality rate for both sexes fell in 2003 to 586.9 deaths per 100,000, from 598.2 in 2002. This rate has been dropping consistently each year since its last peak of 694.9 in 1993.

The age-standardized mortality rate continued its downward trend for men in 2003, reaching 733.4 deaths per 100,000 population from 747.8 deaths in 2002. This was down from the most recent peak of 902.1 in 1993.

The age-standardized mortality rate for women also fell to 475.4 deaths per 100,000 population after rising to 485.7 in 2002. That increase had been the first in nine years.

Improvement in life expectancy for seniors

Life expectancy at the age of 65, which refers to the number of years on average that a person aged 65 could expect to live, improved for both men and women in 2003.

Men aged 65 in 2003 could anticipate living on average an additional 17.4 years, while women could expect an additional 20.8 years.

In 2002, the comparable figures were 17.2 years for men and 20.6 for women. The gap between the two sexes remained the same at 3.4 years.

Infant mortality rate down slightly

The infant mortality rate, which represents the number of deaths of infants less than one year of age, declined to 5.3 deaths per 1,000 live births from 5.4 deaths in 2002.

The decrease in the infant mortality rate was due to a reduction in both the number of deaths and the mortality rate of infants age 7 to 364 days. The number of these deaths dropped 4.0% in 2003, from 696 in 2002 to 668. Their mortality rate dropped from 2.1 deaths per 1,000 births to 2.0.

The mortality rates for infants under 1 day old and for infants age 1 to 6 days old stayed the same as in 2002, at 2.5 and 0.7 deaths per 1,000 births respectively.

In 2003, the male infant mortality rate was 5.7 deaths per 1,000, while for females the rate was 4.8. Both rates declined by a slight 0.1 years from 2002.

The number of infant deaths remained virtually unchanged: 1,765 in 2003 compared with 1,762 in 2002. In comparison, the number of live births in 2003 jumped 1.9% from 2002.

The infant mortality rate was higher than the national rate in the three Prairie provinces – Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta – and in the three territories. Alberta’s infant mortality rate showed a substantial decrease in 2003 to 6.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births compared with 7.3 infant deaths in 2002.

Six in 10 deaths due to diseases of circulatory system, cancer

In the last quarter century, the leading causes of death in Canada have been diseases of the circulatory system and malignant neoplasms, or cancer.

In 2003, diseases of circulatory system and cancer combined caused six deaths out of 10 (62.0%).

Deaths due to diseases of the circulatory system amounted to nearly 1 in 3 deaths (32.8%) in 2003. However, this group of causes was responsible for nearly 1 in 2 (47.3%) deaths in 1979.

Cancer caused 65,990 deaths in 2003, a 1.4% increase from 2002. Since 1979, the proportion of deaths due to cancer has increased from 22.9% to 29.2% in 2003.

Both diseases of the circulatory system and cancer deaths become more common as people get older, and Canada’s population is aging. Age-standardized rates eliminate the effect of population aging on mortality trends.

The age-standardized mortality rate for diseases of the circulatory system dropped substantially in the last quarter century, from 408.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 1979 to 185.9 deaths in 2003.

In the same period, the age-standardized mortality rate for cancers decreased much more slowly, down to 175.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2003, from 187.8 deaths in 1979.

Cancer deaths mainly in five sites

Over 55% of all cancer deaths in 2003 are located in one of five sites: lung, colorectal, female breast, male prostate and pancreas.

Lung cancer accounted for 26.3% of all cancer deaths in 2003, the largest proportion for any cancer site. The number of deaths due to lung cancer rose to 17,374 in 2003, up 1.1% from 2002.

The age-standardized mortality rate for lung cancer, which eliminates the impact of an aging population, fell for both sexes combined in 2003 to 47.0 deaths per 100,000, from 47.8 a year earlier.

For men, the lung cancer age-standardized mortality rate dropped to 65.1 deaths per 100,000 from 65.6 in 2002. Men’s lung cancer mortality rate peaked in the late 1980s, at 81.3 deaths per 100,000 in 1988. The age-standardized mortality rates for colorectal cancer and prostate cancer also decreased for men in 2003, to 23.0 and 22.8 deaths per 100,000 respectively. Both rates had peaked in 1995.

In the last quarter century, women’s lung cancer mortality rate has more than doubled, from 16.3 deaths in 1979 to 35.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2003. In contrast, death rates for colorectal cancer and for female breast cancer dropped in 2003 for women, to 14.6 and 24.1 deaths per 100,000 respectively, continuing the downward trend that started in the mid-1980s.

Deaths from pancreatic cancer jumped 7.5% in 2003 to 3,411 for both sexes combined. Changes in the age-standardized rate for this cancer site increased only marginally in 2003, to 9.1 deaths per 100,000 from 8.7 in 2002. The mortality rate for men was 10.3 deaths per 100,000 and the rate for women was 8.1, both up very slightly from 2002.

Infectious disease outbreaks in 2003

Canada experienced two important infectious disease outbreaks in 2003. The national mortality data show 511 deaths due to Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infection and 30 deaths due to Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) of Canadians in 2003. All SARS deaths occurred in Ontario.

Because SARS was a new disease, no trend information is available. For C. difficile infection, there was an increase in 2003 of 67.5% in deaths due to this condition compared with 2002.

Almost all of the increase was in Quebec, where the number of deaths due to this infection rose to 355 in 2003, more than double the number that occurred in 2002.

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Date Modified: 2006-03-30 Important Notices