Cancer emerges due to an evolutionary process in somatic tissue. The fundamental laws of evolution can best be formulated as exact mathematical equations. Therefore, the process of cancer initiation and progression is amenable to mathematical investigation. Of special importance are changes that occur early during malignant transformation because they may result in oncogene addiction and represent promising targets for therapeutic intervention. Here we describe a mathematical approach, called Retracing the Evolutionary Steps in Cancer (RESIC), to deduce the temporal sequence of genetic events during tumorigenesis from crosssectional genomic data of tumors at their fully transformed stage. When applied to a dataset of 70 advanced colorectal cancers, our algorithm accurately predicts the sequence of APC, KRAS, and TP53 mutations previously defined by analyzing tumors at different stages of colon cancer formation. We further validate the method with glioblastoma and leukemia sample data and then apply it to complex integrated genomics databases, finding that high-level EGFR amplification appears to be a late event in primary glioblastomas. RESIC represents the first evolutionary mathematical approach to identify the temporal sequence of mutations driving tumorigenesis and may be useful to guide the validation of candidate genes emerging from cancer genome surveys.