BACKGROUND: It is possible to infer the past of populations by comparing genomes between individuals. In general, older populations have more genomic diversity than younger populations. The force of selection can also be inferred from population diversity. If selection is strong and frequently eliminates less fit variants, diversity will be limited because new, initially homogeneous populations constantly emerge. METHODOLOGY AND RESULTS: Here we translate a population genetics approach to human somatic cancer cell populations by measuring genomic diversity within and between small colorectal cancer (CRC) glands. Control tissue culture and xenograft experiments demonstrate that the population diversity of certain passenger DNA methylation patterns is reduced after cloning but subsequently increases with time. When measured in CRC gland populations, passenger methylation diversity from different parts of nine CRCs was relatively high and uniform, consistent with older, stable lineages rather than mixtures of younger homogeneous populations arising from frequent cycles of selection. The diversity of six metastases was also high, suggesting dissemination early after transformation. Diversity was lower in DNA mismatch repair deficient CRC glands, possibly suggesting more selection and the elimination of less fit variants when mutation rates are elevated. CONCLUSION/SIGNIFICANCE: The many hitchhiking passenger variants observed in primary and metastatic CRC cell populations are consistent with relatively old populations, suggesting that clonal evolution leading to selective sweeps may be rare after transformation. Selection in human cancers appears to be a weaker than presumed force after transformation, consistent with the observed rarity of driver mutations in cancer genomes. Phenotypic plasticity rather than the stepwise acquisition of new driver mutations may better account for the many different phenotypes within human tumors.