Leading causes of death in Australia

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Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS, 2009) data shows that medical illnesses are the leading causes of deaths in Australiai. Topping the list are several types of cancer, Ischemic heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease and dementiai.

Leading cause of death in Australia: cancers

In Australia, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 85ii. Cancer is a serious illness that will generally impact us all sooner or later, through a personal diagnosis or that of a close friend or family member, no matter where it strikes, the effects of cancer can be devastating.

Cancer can be life threatening and is caused by mutations in the cancer cells' genetic materialiii. Where left uncontrolled, these abnormal cells can invade and damage vital body tissuesiii.

The ABS has noted that in 2009, cancer (as a collective term for all different types of cancer) was a leading cause of death in Australia and the disease accounted for 29.8% of all registered deaths that year. All up, in 2009, 41,952 people died from canceri, far more than the 22,523 recorded for Ischemic heart diseases and the 11,220 recorded deaths for strokesi.

Of all cancers in Australia, the biggest killers were trachea and lung cancers which totalled 7,786 deaths in 2009. The second most common were colon and rectum cancers at 4,065 deaths, followed by blood and lymph cancers which claimed 3,810 lives. The fourth, fifth and sixth most common cancer-related deaths were from prostate cancer (3,111 deaths), breast cancer (2,799 deaths) and skin cancer (1,837 deaths), respectivelyi.

Trachea and lung cancer: the most common form of cancer causing deaths in Australia

Diseases associated with the circulatory system - Ischemic heart disease and stroke

Ischemic heart disease was the number one underlying cause of death for all Australians in 2009i. Whereas cancers are considered as organ or disease-specific and not grouped together, Ischemic heart disease accounted for 16% of all registered deaths in that yeari.

Ischemic heart disease includes angina, blocked arteries of the heart, and heart attacks. While statistics by the ABS have shown that the likelihood of being diagnosed with Ischemic heart disease increases with ageiv, it was already the second leading cause of death among 35-year-old Australiansiv.

Another potentially life threatening disease associated with the circulatory system is stroke. While Ischemic heart disease is attributed to a reduced blood supply to the heart, stroke is caused by a reduced blood supply to the brain. Strokes, also known as Cerebrovascular disease, includes haemorrhages, infarctions and blocked arteries of the braini. Although deaths due to this disease have decreased by 8.8% between 2000 and 2009, it is still one of the leading causes of death in Australia - especially among people over the age of 45v.

Alzheimer's disease and Dementia

Alzheimer's disease and dementia was the fourth leading underlying cause of death in Australia in 2009i. Dementia is often thought of as a memory disorder, but can be more accurately defined as fatal brain failurevi. Alzheimer's disease is a common cause of dementia whereby this degenerative neurological disease impairs a person's speech and language, memory, and judgment, as well as affecting the person's orientation within their physical surroundings.

In a span of nine years from 2000 to 2009, the number of deaths due to Alzheimer's disease and dementia has increased 126.5% from 3,655 to 8,277vii. Although dementia is a not a natural part of ageingvii, it seems that your chances of being diagnosed with the medical condition doubles if you're over the age of 65viii. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council Australia, nearly 3% of the Australian population - about 720,000 - will develop Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia by 2050ix.

Financial security is in your hands

You shouldn't take chances when it comes to your health. Along with Ischemic heart disease and cancers, stroke and dementia were amongst the leading causes of death in Australia during 2009.

Making changes to your lifestyle, such as eating well and quitting smoking may improve your healthx but doing these things cannot guarantee that you won't develop a life-threatening disease. While life-threatening medical problems may be out of your hands, your family's financial future does not need to be.

Providing future financial security for your family should not be an afterthought, it is important to consider while you are young and healthy, before you have any health scares, and while there are still a range of options available to you.

By taking out life insurance prior to experiencing health issues, your family's financial welfare is secured in the event of a life-threatening illness. With Allianz Life cover, you can receive a lump sum paid to you if you suffer from a terminal illness where death is likely to occur within 12 months, which can help to protect your family from financial hardships.

i Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009, Causes of death, released at 03/05/11, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/B6940E9BF2695EE1CA25788400127B0A

ii Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010b, Measures of Australia's progress: Health and socioeconomic disadvantage, released 15/09/11, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/1370.0~2010~Chapter~Cancer%20%

iii National Health and Medical Research Council Australia, 2011, Cancer, http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/grants/research-funding-statistics-and-data/funding-datasets/cancer

iv Australian Bureau of Statistics - table: Underlying causes of death, Australia, 1.3. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/3303.02009?OpenDocument

v Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009, Disability, Australia, released at 02/05/11, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4446.0main+features52009

vi Time Health Magazine, 2009, Redefining dementia as a terminal illness, http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1930278,00.html

vii Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2011, Dementia, http://www.health.gov.au/dementia

viii Access Economics, 2005, Dementia Estimates and Projections: Australian States and Territories, Alzheimer's Australia: Canberra

ix National Health and Medical Research Council Australia, 2010, Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/grants/research-funding-statistics-and-data/nhmrc-priorities/alzheimer%E2%80%99s-disease-and-other-dementias

x Abelson, P. & Applied Economics, 2003, Returns on Investment in Public Health. Department of Health and Ageing: Canberra.