width=350The number one killer of women in Australia is not the most fatal cancer, though lung cancer gets the dubious honour. According to Dr Jane Smith, associate professor and representative of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, heart disease, which is the number one health risk, is something most of us can avoid with simple lifestyle changes.

You can't escape a family history of diseases, which may or may not increase your own risk, she said.

Some people get lung cancer who have never smoked - there are people who have heart attacks who run marathons and don't eat fat, but it's much less likely to happen if you follow a healthy lifestyle.

The good news is by being aware of the risks, you can act now. Here's the list of the top ten causes of death in Australian women, and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Coronary heart disease

About a third of all deaths in Australia are due to some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD), where there is blockage to the blood vessels that supply to the heart, brain or legs. Women are 10 per cent more likely than men to have CVD, even though heart attack rates are reducing, and survival rates are increasing.

How to avoid it: Maintain a healthy weight and cholesterol levels with regular exercise, keep a healthy diet and don't smoke. See you GP, if you have a family history of CVD, diabetes of hypertension.

2. Stroke

Stroke is a cerebrovascular disease that involves the blood vessels that supply the brain and its membrane, and it accounts for 8 per cent of all deaths, mostly in older women.

How to avoid it: Keep a healthy diet, daily exercise and don't smoke.

3. Dementia

Dementia is a deterioration of brain function, involving memory, understanding and reasoning and is associated with other diseases. Primarily caused by Alzheimer's, usually in older women, but can occur earlier.

How to avoid it: There is no prevention or cure, but you can keep your brain active, with good social life and diet that contains leafy greens, oily fish and antioxidants.

4. Lung cancer

Ninety per cent of cases are caused by active or passive smoking. By the age of 85, a third of all women are usually diagnosed with some form of cancer. While cancer is only the fifth most common, it claims most lives.

Due to the rise of female smokers over the years, there is an increasing pattern in the incidence and death rates among women. Asbestos exposure can also be a risk factor.

How to avoid it: Don't smoke, see your GP if you have been exposed to asbestos, and be careful when renovating older homes or ask an expert.

5. Breast cancer

One in nine women will develop breast cancer by the age of 85 and one in38 will die because of it. While it's the most common cancer among women, the improvements in detection and treatment have reduced the death rates by 27 per cent within the last decade.

Though 60 is the average age of diagnosis, it is still the most common cause of death in women between the ages of 25 to 64. Lesser-known risk factors are weight gain, alcohol intake, inactivity, contraceptive pills that protects against ovarian cancer, and taking hormone therapy for longer periods.

How to avoid it: With family history of the disease, and if you are over 50, there is a greater risk. Biennial mammograms are strongly recommended.

6. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

This disease involves damaged lungs, and airway obstruction that makes it hard to breath. Other conditions associated with it include, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Three quarters of deaths are due to cigarette smoking, while other causes include respiratory infections, air pollution and occupational dusts and chemicals.

How to avoid it: Maintain good nutrition, hydration and weight. Avoid smoking and respiratory irritants. Increase muscle tone, and get vaccinated against influenza annually if you have lung problems.

7. Influenza

It is a common viral respiratory infection with symptoms ranging from high fevers, sore throat to pneumonia and inflammation of the brain or heart. High-risk groups include pregnant women, Aboriginals and those with existing medical conditions. It is also fatal if you're over 65.

How to avoid it: Annual vaccination is recommended for high-risk groups. Keep good hygiene, wear face masks and keep a healthy diet, to reduce the risk.

8. Diabetes

It is a condition where the body can't maintain normal blood glucose levels. Three types of diabetes include - type 1, type 2 and gestational. Type 2 is the most common and is increasing in rate. Over the past 20 years, prevalence has doubled. It can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, lower limb amputation and strokes.

How to avoid it: Get diabetes risk assessment. Keep a healthy weight, reduce weight of five to seven per cent if you are overweight, exercise, and eat a fibre-rich, low glucose diet. Risks are increased in obesity, old age, a history of CVD, polycystic ovary syndrome and genetics.

9. Colorectal cancer

It's commonly called bowel cancer, affecting the colon and rectum. One in 15 women has the chance of being diagnosed by the age of 85.

How to avoid it: Screening is recommended from the age of 55. Up to 75 per cent of cases can be prevented with good diet and exercise. Avoid smoking.

10. Chronic kidney disease

It is a condition where the kidney is extremely damages and it requires kidney replacement therapy through dialysis or a transplant. The end-stage of the disease can kill within weeks, if left untreated. Cases have tripled within 25 years.

You are at risk if you have diabetes, hypertension, glomerulonephritis (kidney's small blood vessel inflammation), urinary track infections or drug toxicity.

How to avoid it: Keep a healthy diet, exercise, monitor your blood pressure and keep diabetes under control.