The top 5 causes of premature death

Thousands of people in England could avoid an early death from one of the five most common killers:

  • cancer
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • lung disease
  • liver disease

A child born today should expect to live a longer, healthier life than ever before. Yet, a Government report, Living Well for Longer (PDF, 1.6Mb), blames the top five killers for more than 150,000 deaths a year among under-75s in England alone and the Department of Health estimates two-thirds of them are entirely avoidable.

This chart shows the premature death toll by illness. Heart disease and stroke are together referred to as cardiovascular disease.

 

 

Reduce your risk of cancer

Are you at risk of early death?

The 10 main risk factors that make you more likely to die prematurely are:

  • Smoking
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Being overweight
  • Not doing enough exercise
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating too little fruit
  • Having high cholesterol
  • Not eating enough nuts and seeds
  • Having high blood sugar levels
  • Consuming too much salt

More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. Although there are more than 200 different types of cancer, lung, breast, prostate and bowel cancer account for more than half of cases.

According to Cancer Research UK, an unhealthy lifestyle is the root cause of about a third of all cancers.

Smoking causes almost all lung cancer. Poor diet has been linked to bowel cancer, pancreatic cancer and oesophageal cancer. And heavy drinking has been implicated in the development of breast cancer.

While healthy lifestyle changes can prevent many cases of cancer, screening aims to drive down cancer cases even further.

National programmes for breast cancer screening, cervical screening and bowel cancer screening help identify cancer at an early stage when it's more treatable.

Prevent heart disease

Experts say most cases of premature death from heart disease are completely preventable.

Smoking, being overweight, having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, heavy drinking and physical inactivity are all key risk factors.

Reduce your risk of stroke

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in England each year and the leading cause of disability.

More than 150,000 people have a stroke every year in the UK but, according to The Stroke Association, up to 10,000 of these could be prevented if more people were aware of the symptoms and sought out emergency treatment.

High blood pressure is the main cause of stroke. Almost one in three people in England have high blood pressure and nearly half of them aren't receiving any treatment for the condition, says the British Heart Foundation.

Reduce your risk of lung disease

Respiratory disease covers a variety of conditions ranging from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) one of the most common causes of death.

COPD is almost completely avoidable. Most cases (around 85%) are caused by smoking. The other 15% of cases are triggered by exposure to fumes, chemicals and dusts at work or, very occasionally, because of a rare genetic tendency to develop COPD called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.

Reduce your risk of liver disease

Liver disease is on the increase in England with a 20% increase in cases over the last decade. The disease develops silently and many people have no idea there's anything wrong until they develop liver failure and it's too late.

The three main causes of liver disease are heavy drinking, obesity and viral hepatitis (inflammation of the liver).

The British Liver Trust has more information on looking after your liver.

Page last reviewed: 08/07/2016

Next review due: 08/07/2019

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