BURLINGTON, Vt. (WFFF) – Last year, millions of people across the United States missed routine cancer screenings, and as Vermont and the nation get back to normal, health leaders want to make sure those important checkups are part of your summer plans.

During the pandemic, the trend of missed screenings sparked concerns that it would lead to delays in identifying people with cancer and treating them, potentially claiming thousands of lives.

According to the American Cancer Society, the amount of people getting screened for colon cancer, breast cancer and cervical cancer dropped by as much as 90% last spring.

“We are very excited to welcome people back,” said Dr. Natasha Withers, a primary care physician at Porter Medical Center. “Re-educate them on how important screenings are, whether that be a wellness exam with your provider or a screening test such as colonoscopies, mammograms, pap smears, and things of that nature.”

Even during the pandemic, the message was simple – it’s safe to get screened, and it could save your life.

As more people get vaccinated and public health officials and organizations are able to turn more attention away from COVID-19, that’s a message that will take center stage.

“We’re launching a public education campaign to return to screening,” said Lynn Basilio, Senior Manager of Cancer Control Strategic Partnerships with the American Cancer Society’s Northeast Region. “We’ve convened national and local partners to work on this together and bring greater attention to it. Cancer hasn’t stopped, so we need to get back to screening and our healthcare appointments.”

At Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the missed screenings are one of many public health concerns to come out of the pandemic, and we still don’t have a full grasp of how wide-ranging the fallout could be.

“The lifestyle changes we’re always talking about that people may have been doing a good job on, when the pandemic hit, everything kind of fell apart,” Dr. Levine said. “Related to stress, related to disruptions of routines, related to being home more and not doing as much, being less active.”

He expects more research to come out in the coming months on how widespread that impact could be, and said the Department of Health will have more on that return to healthy habits in the coming weeks and months.