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Continual evolution of cancer makes it challenging to predict clinical outcomes. Highly varied and unpredictable patient outcomes in esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) prompted us to question the pattern and timing of metastatic spread. Whole genome sequencing and phylogenetic analysis of 396 samples across 18 EAC cases demonstrated a stellate pattern on the phylogenetic trees in 90% cases. The age-dependent trinucleotide signature, which can serve as a molecular clock, was absent or reduced in the stellate branches beyond the trunk in most cases (p<0.0001). Clustering of lymph nodes and distant metastases (n=250) demonstrated samples sharing a common clonal origin were widely dispersed anatomically. Metastatic subclones at autopsy were present in tissue and blood samples from earlier time-points. We infer that metastasis occurs rapidly across multiple sites, constituting a model of metastatic spread we term clonal diaspora. This has implications for understanding metastatic progression, clinical staging and patient management.

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