skip to log on skip to main content
VoiceOver users please use the tab key when navigating expanded menus

What are the leading causes of death in Australia?

Published February 2021

Death can be a taboo topic to talk about, despite it happening to us all.

While most of us don’t know how or when we’ll die, information on the leading causes of death in Australia can help us reflect on our own health and lifestyle choices, and what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones’ financial future.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found in 2018 13 per cent of men died from coronary heart disease – the leading cause of death. This disease was the second leading cause of death for women; the first being dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at 12 per cent. Cerebrovascular disease (including stroke), lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – comprise the top five underlying causes of death in Australia for men and women of all ages combined.

The top 10 causes of death for men and women in 2018

The top 10 causes of death for men and women in 2016





Coronary heart disease

Dementia and Alzheimer disease


Lung cancer

Coronary heart disease


Dementia and Alzheimer disease

Cerebrovascular disease


Cerebrovascular disease

Lung cancer





Prostate cancer

Breast cancer


Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer






Heart failure


Cancer of unknown primary site

Influenza and pneumonia


Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia’s Health 2018 Report

Death and survival rates in Australia

There has been a long and continuous decline in death rates for Australians, with the gap between life expectancies for men and women closing. According to AIHW the reduction in death rates can be attributed to the improvements in modern medicine such as hospital care and pharmaceuticals and Australians becoming more educated about their health over the years.

Taking preventative measures such as quitting smoking, being sun smart and regular skin checks, plus mammograms, prostate exams, and pap smears has contributed to improved survival rates from cancer. Thirty years ago about five in 10 people survived for at least five years after their cancer diagnosis; more recent figures are closer to seven in 10.

Sadly, suicide has crept into the top 10 causes of death in Australian men. The AIHW reports that suicide takes an average of 8 lives per day – which is more than two times that national road toll and affecting young men in particular. Between 2016 – 2018 suicide was the leading cause of death among people aged 15–44.

Life insurance and suicide

Usually we associate life insurance with deaths from cancer, stroke or heart attack. Life insurance generally covers these, but many assume a claim related to suicide won’t be accepted. This is incorrect – some insurers will cover this but have exclusion periods on claiming for suicide of 13-24 months from the date of taking out the policy. 

There are government funded support programs available to all Australians to help manage mental health. Announced in the 2020-21 Budget people can now claim Medicare rebates for a total of 20 individual psychological therapy sessions. This is available until June 2022 as part of support offered under the Better Access initiative from the Department of Health. If a counselling/psychology provider bulk bills, there will be no out of pocket expenses to speak to someone.

Protecting yourself with life insurance

How much cover you need comes down to your own personal circumstances, such as the number of dependents you may have, size of debts and what life stage you’re at. Life insurance provides beneficiaries with a lump-sum payment if you die, or an early payment if you’re diagnosed as being terminally ill.

Thinking about death and its common causes can be upsetting, but it’s important to create peace of mind and protect your loved ones’ financial future with protection in place.


Find out more about the different types of life insurance and have your big questions about life insurance answered.

Learn more about life insurance

13 16 14

Mon-Fri 8am to 7pm (AEST)

Learn more about life insurance


How to write a will

Have you written a will yet? Creating a will is important because it states what will happen to your estate and assets when you die.


Life insurance FAQs

Life insurance can seem confusing, so we’ve addressed some of the big FAQs to help you choose the insurance policy that's right for you.


What are the different types of life insurance?

Learn about the types of life insurance, including critical illness insurance, income protection insurance, and more.


This information is current as at date of publication and is subject to change.

The issuer of this information is ANZ. While ANZ has taken care to ensure that this information is from reliable sources, it cannot warrant its accuracy, completeness or suitability for your intended use. To the extent permitted by law, ANZ does not accept any responsibility or liability arising from your use of this information.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ) ABN 11 005 357 522 AFSL 234527 is an authorised deposit taking institution (Bank) under the Banking Act 1959 (Cth). The issuers of these products are not Banks. Although ANZ distributes these products, these products are not a deposit or other liability of ANZ or its related group companies. None of them stands behind or guarantees the issuers or the products. 

This information is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking account of your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider whether the information is appropriate for you having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs.