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The top five causes of premature death

Thousands of people 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

More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer](/condition/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.

  • make sure you know the key symptoms of the main cancers
  • take up the offer of cancer screening
  • lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of cancer

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.

  • If you're over 40, ask your doctor about a health check
  • Exercise reduces your risk of heart attack by 30%. Try to do more exercise, especially aerobic exercise like walking, swimming and cycling. Find out how you can benefit from being more physically active, and try this 12-week exercise plan for beginners combining running and strength and flexibility workouts.
  • Carrying extra weight puts a strain on your heart. For help losing weight sign up to Change4Life's healthy eating smart swaps campaigns and the NHS-approved 12-week weight loss plan.

Reduce your risk of stroke

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

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.

  • watch out for the symptoms of stroke
  • a good way to reduce high blood pressure is to reduce your salt intake. Find out how to cut down on salt and read articles on how to have a healthy diet

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.

  • find out how to stop smoking including how stop smoking advisers can help you quit and the benefits of stop smoking treatments
  • download this free NHS Smokefree app for daily tips and support
  • read how to stop smoking in pregnancy

Reduce your risk of liver disease

Liver disease is on the increase. 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).

  • More than a third of men and over a quarter of women regularly exceed the recommended level of alcohol intake. Find out how to cut down.
  • Get Change4Life tips on how to take control of your drinking.
  • Use our BMI calculator to find out if you are a healthy weight and read articles on how to lose weight including the NHS-approved 12-week weight loss plan.
  • Have a hepatitis B vaccination if you're at risk of infection.

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

Content supplied byNHS Logonhs.uk

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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