Top Five Causes of Death in Men

By Richard Fowler, MD, internal medicine physician

father and son talking about health

Did you know that in 1920, women outlived men by one year, and today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that women survive men by five or more years?  June is Men’s Health Month and a good time to examine the primary causes of death in men and how to decrease your risks.

According to the Men’s Health Network (MHN), the top five killers of men are:


Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women, but twice as many men die of cardiovascular diseases.  According to the American Heart Association, heart disease tends to manifest itself about ten years earlier in men vs. women.

Risk factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • Family history
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity/overweight
  • Smoking

Did you know 90 percent of heart disease is due to lifestyle? 80 percent of heart disease is preventable with six healthy lifestyle modifications:

  • Nutrition/diet
  • Physical activity
  • Smoking/substance cessation
  • Stress management
  • Compliance with prescribed medication(s)
  • Sleep

Stroke

Like heart disease, stroke incidents are higher among men vs. women.  According to the American Stroke Association, the incidence rate of stroke is 1.25 times greater in men than women. Many of the risk factors associated with strokes mirror that of heart disease and include:

  • Hypertension
  • Increasing age
  • Race: African-Americans have the greater risk than whites.
  • Gender: Stroke is more common in men than in women until age 75.
  • Personal history of stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA, or ministroke)
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking, including secondhand smoke
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol and substance abuse 

Suicide and Depression

According to reports by MHN, men are four times more likely to commit suicide compared to women, partially because of underdiagnosed depression in men. More than six million men have depression each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Signs of depression in men are often different than women, which may contribute to family and friends not helping to identify it.  Instead of sadness, depression in men may present as:

  • Anger
  • Aggression
  • Work “burnout”
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Midlife crisis
  • Alcohol and substance abuse

Lung Cancer

Did you know lung cancer is the leading cancer cause of death among men and women?  While rates of lung cancer have been declining since the 1980s, tobacco products remain the number one cause of lung cancer.  Unfortunately, with the introduction of e-cigarettes and “vaping,” new risk factors have been introduced.

Other risk factors include:

  • Secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to asbestos or radon
  • Personal history
  • Air pollution

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in men but is treatable is found early.  Unfortunately, prostate cancer symptoms are generally not visible until it has spread to other parts of the body, making it the second deadliest cancer in men.

The key to early detection is annual screening.  The American Cancer Society recommends a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal exam be completed annually for healthy men starting at age 50 or older. Men who are at high risk should begin testing earlier.

Prostate cancer is most common in North America and Northwestern Europe. Other risk factors include:

  • Increasing age
  • High-fat diet including a lot of red meat and high-fat dairy products and not enough fruits and vegetables

Fortunately, steps can be taken to reduce one’s risk of these diseases, and decreasing your risk starts with getting established with a primary care provider and getting annual wellness exams and appropriate screenings.