How we die in Canada

Statistics Canada maintains a snapshot of how Canadians die. The chart not only gives an indication of how nearly a quarter million of us cast off this mortal coil each year, but suggests where we are making progress and where the numbers are climbing dramatically.

You may have noticed that the Heart and Stroke Foundation no longer suggests cardiovascular disease is Canada’s number one killer. Canadians who die of major cardiovascular disease has dropped from 71,338 in 2005 to 68,342 in 2009, the most recent year for which Statscan has complete data. That would put it slightly behind those who die of “malignant neoplasms,” better known as cancer.

In 2009 71,125 deaths were recorded from cancer, a rise of nearly 4,000 since 2005. To put that in perspective, nearly one in three deaths in Canada are cancer-related. That does not necessarily mean we are doing that bad – Canada is just slightly better than the OECD average (age standardized) for all cancers at 205 per 100,000 population (OECD is 208). What is the leading country for fewest cancer deaths? Mexico, at 101 per 100,000, followed by Israel (162), Sweden (165) and Finland (165). Our nearest neighbour, the United States, has 185.

The Conference Board of Canada sees Canada’s number as a failure next to the United States – part of an ongoing project to convince us of the evils of Medicare – but looking at the leading nations on cancer, there doesn’t seem to be any particular pattern. You’ll notice the Conference Board is not banging the table in favour of Mexican-style health care.

Despite a greying and aging population, the total number of deaths has remained relatively consistent. In 2005, 230,132 people died in Canada. In 2009 we recorded 238,418 deaths, slightly fewer than 2008 when 238,617 passed away.

The other good news is fewer of us are dying from diabetes mellitus, dropping from 7,881 in 2005 to 6,923 in 2009. This would suggest efforts to help Canadians manage their diabetes are paying off.

Significant increases include septicaemia (from 1,690 to 2,211) intestinal infections (from 965 to 1,377), and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, which rose from 2,348 deaths to 2,683.

Not all Canadians die of disease. Each year nearly 4,000 Canadians kill themselves intentionally, while slightly more than 10,000 are killed through accidents. Homicide has not changed dramatically over the five-year span, from 576 in 2005 to 574 in 2009.

To view the complete chart, click here.

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