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The birth of the "do not delay" principle in cancer treatment has often been linked with developments in late nineteenth century: the rise of histology and cellular theory of malignancy that favored the definition of cancer as a local pathology, then the development of radical surgical techniques that transformed malignant tumors into a potentially curable condition. This text seeks to nuance this view. It points out important continuities in the understanding of the natural history of uterine cancers. At its center, the wish, already present in early nineteenth century, is to detect "early," that is, small and localized malignant lesions, then to extirpate or destroy these lesions before they become fully blown cancer. The long history of this particular regime of hope helps demonstrate why it is so difficult today to promote more nuanced views of the efficacy of early detection of malignant tumors.