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What are the leading causes of death in Canada?

Cancer and heart disease are still the leading causes of death across Canada, but COVID-19 comes in at the third top spot.

Every year, Statistics Canada records the number of deaths across Canada — and the major diseases that Canadians are dying from. We combed through this data to find the leading causes of death, as well as which conditions were different among men and women.

The 10 leading causes of death in Canada

Statistics Canada released its 2020 mortality data. Of the 307,205 Canadians who died, the leading cause of death in Canada was cancer followed by heart disease, killing 80,973 and 53,704 people respectively. These were also the top causes of death in Canada from 2016-2019.

A notable difference between Statcan’s 2019 and 2020 data is that suicide and kidney disease made the list of the top 10 leading causes of death in 2019, but were replaced by COVID-19 and chronic liver disease in 2020.

The other top 10 leading causes of death in 2020 stayed relatively the same compared to 2018 and 2019.

RankCause of deathTotal number of deaths
1Cancer80,973
2Heart disease53,704
3COVID-1916,151
4Accidents15,508
5Cerebrovascular diseases13,695
6Chronic lower respiratory diseases11,722
7Diabetes7,566
8Flu and pneumonia5,931
9Alzheimer’s disease5,743
10Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis4,173

How did COVID-19 impact the leading causes of death in Canada?

In Canada, the death rate for COVID-19 was 16,151, making it the third highest cause of death in Canada in 2020. COVID-19 was the fourth leading cause of death for men and the third leading cause of death for women.

The top 10 leading causes of death for men

These were the leading causes of death among Canadian men. Interestingly, the number of deaths caused by cerebrovascular diseases outranked the number of deaths caused by chronic lower respiratory diseases, unlike in 2019 where the situation was reversed. Other than that and the introduction of COVID-19, the leading causes of death for Canadian men stayed relatively the same from 2019 to 2020.

RankCause of deathNumber of deaths
1Cancer42,857
2Heart disease29,367
3Accidents9,245
4COVID-197,801
5Cerebrovascular diseases6,059
6Chronic lower respiratory diseases5,924
7Diabetes4,260
8Flu and pneumonia2,942
9Suicide2,874
10Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis2,683

The top 10 leading causes of death for women

As for Canadian women, deaths caused by accidents outranked deaths caused by chronic lower respiratory diseases in 2020, which is the reverse of 2019. Similarly, deaths cause by diabetes surpassed flu and pneumonia, unlike what we saw in 2019.

RankCause of deathNumber of deaths
1Cancer38,116
2Heart disease24,337
3COVID-198,350
4Cerebrovascular diseases7,636
5Accidents6,263
6Chronic lower respiratory diseases5,798
7Alzheimer’s disease3,814
8Diabetes3,306
9Flu and pneumonia2,989
10Kidney diseases2,012

How do the leading causes of death compare for men and women?

Here are a few key differences between the leading causes of death for men vs. women in Canada.

  • COVID death rate. COVID-19 killed 549 more Canadian women than men in 2020.
  • Top 2 causes of death. The top 2 causes of death in 2020 for both men and women were cancer and heart disease.
  • Cancer killed more men than women. Cancer killed 4,741 more men than women in the year 2020.
  • Heart disease killed more men than women. The second leading cause of death, heart disease, killed 5,030 more men than women.
  • Suicide and liver disease are top causes of death for men. While most of the top 10 causes of death impacted both men and women, suicide and liver disease were two that appeared on the top 10 list for men, but not women.
  • Alzheimer’s and kidney disease are top causes of death for women. Alzheimer’s and kidney disease appear on the list of the top 10 causes of death for women, but do not make the top 10 list for men.

What’s the average age of death in Canada?

With all this talk of death, it’s important to keep in mind that the average age of death in Canada is still relatively high. The average life expectancy is 79.82 years for men and 84.11 years for women. While there are many factors that can impact your life expectancy, like your environment and family history, the majority of Canadians live long lives.

Average Life Expectancy in Canada

On average, Canadians live to be 82 years old, according to 2020 data from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Women tend to outlive men, with an average life expectancy of 84.1 years compared to 79.8 years for men. In 2023, the average life expectancy in Canada is expected to be 82.96 years, up 0.18% from 82.81 years in 2022.

How we collected this data

To learn about the leading causes of death among Canadians, we turned to the Statistics Canada mortality data. Statistics Canada analyzes deaths and diseases each year, with the most recent data focused on 2020. We’ll update this page as new data is released.

What happens to your money when you die?

When you die, your money and other assets are considered part of your estate and will be dispersed to the heirs or beneficiaries specified in your will. This includes money held in your bank accounts. In most cases, the survivor of a joint bank account can continue to access the account.

Any outstanding debts on your estate — including credit cards, mortgages and loans — must be paid off before your heirs can inherit.

If you don’t have a will, your estate will be handled according to the laws in your province or territory. Money and other assets typically go to your spouse or next of kin. If you don’t have family or a will, your estate will likely go to the government.

Protect your loved ones with life insurance

Life insurance offers your loved ones financial security if you pass away. Like other types of insurance, you sign up for coverage and then make regular payments. Life insurance typically costs under $50 a month, but the exact amount varies based on your age, health, policy size and other factors.

When you die, your beneficiaries receive a payout (called a death benefit) worth the policy amount. Most life insurance providers provide a lump sum payout, but some may provide a recurring payment or annuity.

Leading causes of death in the United States

Between 2020 and 2021, all but one of the top 10 leading causes of death remained the same, according to mortality data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2021, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis replaced influenza and pneumonia as the 9th leading cause of death.

There were 3,464,231 registered deaths in the US in 2021, up 3.14% from 3,358,814 in 2020. In 2021, the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 rose 18.8% from 350,831 to 416,893.

RankCause of deathTotal number of deaths
1Heart disease695,547
2Cancer605,213
3COVID-19416,893
4Accidents (unintentional injuries)224,935
5Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)162,890
6Chronic lower respiratory diseases142,342
7Alzheimer’s disease119,399
8Diabetes103,294
9Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis56,585
10Kidney disorders and diseases (nephritis and nephrotic syndrome)54,358

Diseases list: What are the 10 most common diseases?

Cardiovascular disease, cancer and neonatal disorders take the greatest toll on human life, according to a 2019 study published by the Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network. Drawing on global data, the study ranked diseases based on years lost due to premature death as well as years spent living with a disability, identifying the 10 most common diseases as:

  1. Cardiovascular disease
  2. Cancers
  3. Neonatal disorders
  4. Other chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)
  5. Respiratory infections and tuberculosis (TB)
  6. Musculoskeletal disorders
  7. Mental disorders
  8. Diabetes and kidney diseases
  9. Unintentional injuries

In Canada, the most common diseases leading to death are cancer, heart disease and COVID-19. The results are similar in the US, with heart disease causing the most deaths followed by cancer and COVID-19.

How do life insurance companies assess your life expectancy?

The general rule is that the healthier you are, the less you’ll have to pay for life insurance. Each insurance provider has its own underwriting process. As such, some put more weight on certain evaluation factors over others. Take a look at a few points that will be assessed:

  • Age. How old you are plays possibly the biggest role in determining your premiums. The younger you are, the lower your premiums will typically be.
  • Gender. Women typically end up with lower premiums than men, mostly due to women having a higher average life expectancy.
  • Certain health indicators. When a medical exam or medical questions are involved, your weight, height, blood pressure and any history of major diseases or medical conditions help determine your premiums.
  • Family health history. Major health conditions and diseases in your immediate family are likely taken into account. Cancer, cardiac arrest, kidney disease and stroke are among what may affect your premiums.
  • Smoking. General frequency, and the last time you smoked before your medical exam, will likely be considered when determining how much you’ll pay in premiums.
  • Substance use. Alcohol or drug use that has resulted in doctor-mandated rehabilitation and illegal substance abuse are likely to increase your premiums. Life insurance companies generally believe that if you avoid or moderate these substances, you’ll be prevented from getting their associated diseases.
  • High-risk occupations and hobbies. Certain occupations and hobbies are considered riskier than others. Being a lumberjack is objectively more dangerous than working in accounting. Likewise, a skydiving hobby will earn your application more scrutiny than needlepoint.
  • Driving and criminal records. Several tickets within a short period of time, DUIs and arrests can contribute to what your policy costs.

Bottom line

Understanding the leading causes of death is just one of many factors life insurance companies will take into account when determining your rates. A good life insurance policy can protect your family financially if you pass away prematurely, and give you the peace of mind in knowing that your loved ones will be taken care of when you’re gone. To get great coverage at a premium you can afford, compare life insurance companies.

Frequently asked questions about the leading causes of death in Canada

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Written by

Chelsey Hurst

Chelsey Hurst is an associate editor at Finder. She loves empowering people to avoid financial pitfalls and make better decisions with their money. Chelsey has a Bachelor of Science from Redeemer University, a Master of Science from McMaster University, and has won multiple awards for research communication. In her spare time, Chelsey enjoys cooking and taking long walks in nature. See full profile

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