The biggest cause of death depends on how you count them

16 October 2016
What was claimed

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are now the leading causes of death.

Our verdict

It depends how you categorise illnesses. More people died of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than any other single cause in 2015 but, as a group, cancers were the most common cause of deaths.

“Dementia is the single greatest health crisis faced by this country. New figures by the ONS reveal that dementia and Alzheimer's disease are now the leading cause of death”

Judith Cummins MP, 16 November 2016

The leading cause of death depends on how broadly you categorise the main illnesses.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were the leading cause of deaths in England and Wales in 2015, accounting for 12% of all deaths, provided you count each type of cancer separately.

If you look at broad groups then cancer as a whole was the most common cause, accounting for 28% of deaths.

The number of deaths per million people caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, taking age into account, has increased since 2010, in part driven by changes to how its recorded as a main cause of death. The same measure for other common diseases, such as coronary heart disease, strokes and lung cancer, has been falling.

People are tending to live longer and healthier lives, so more of us are living long enough to develop dementia. Improving diagnosis rates and a better understanding of the disease have probably also increased the recording of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease on death certificates.

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