Heart disease, stroke, lung cancer Australia's biggest killers

Heart disease, stroke and lung cancer top the leading causes of death for men and women in Australia at the end of the 20th century, according to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released today.

The largest contributors to premature death were heart disease (96,000 person years of life lost), smoking and alcohol related diseases (118,000 and 67,000 respectively), and suicide (92,000).

Heart disease was the major killer in Australia for the 60th consecutive year, accounting for 27,000 deaths a year (22% of all deaths). This is despite death rates from heart disease falling since 1968 at 3.6% for males and 3% for females a year and declining even more steeply between 1994 and 1998 by around 5% a year.

Stroke (disruption of the blood flow to the brain) ranked second, claiming 10% of all deaths, or 12,300 lives a year. Death rates for stroke have also fallen, by around 1% per year since 1987.

Lung cancer, the third leading cause of death, accounted for 6,900 deaths a year. While the death rate has been falling for men-1.9% per year since 1987-it has increased for women by 1.4% per year over the same period.

Trends in Deaths: analysis of Australian Data 1987-1998 with updates to 2000 shows between 1987 and 1998, death rates for Australian males fell by 2.3% per year and for Australian females by 1.9% per year.

'Declining death rates means that people are living longer. Life expectancy rose by 2.9 and 2.2 years for men and women to 76.6 and 82.1 years, respectively,' according to report co-author Carolyn Dunn.

'The narrowing of the gap between the sexes is notable, with lung cancer, other lung diseases, and heart disease playing significant roles.

'The report not only looked at trends in deaths, but at patterns in different population groups-and the news is not good for all Australians.

'Death rates are generally higher for Australians living outside our cities and for those with lower socioeconomic status,' Ms Dunn said.

'Death rates among the Indigenous population, overall, are three times those for all Australians. 'Indigenous men and women, for example, had diabetes death rates 9 and 15 times those of all Australians.'

Other findings in the report include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was the fourth leading cause of death (5,300 deaths). Death rates have increased among women but have fallen for men.
  • Bowel cancer death rates have increased slightly for men, but have fallen for women (4,700 deaths). Breast cancer death rates have remained stable with 2,500 deaths per year, but more men are dying from prostate cancer (2,700).
  • More men and women are dying from diabetes (3,000 deaths)
  • Suicide death rates have fallen between 1997-2000 for men and women. There are approximately 2,400 suicide deaths per year.

6 December 2002


Further information: Ms Carolyn Dunn, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1058, or 0409 307 671 (mobile),
OR: Dr Paul Jelfs, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1145, or 0407 283 109
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032.