KRAS is the most frequently mutated oncogene. The incidence of specific KRAS alleles varies between cancers from different sites, but it is unclear whether allelic selection results from biological selection for specific mutant KRAS proteins. We used a cross- disciplinary approach to compare KRASG12D, a common mutant form, and KRASA146T, a mutant that occurs only in selected cancers. Biochemical and structural studies demonstrated that KRASA146T exhibits a marked extension of switch 1 away from the protein body and nucleotide binding site, which activates KRAS by promoting a high rate of intrinsic and guanine nucleotide exchange factor–induced nucleotide exchange. Using mice genetically engineered to express either allele, we found that KRASG12D and KRASA146T exhibit distinct tissue-specific effects on homeostasis that mirror mutational frequencies in human cancers. These tissue-specific phenotypes result from allele-specific signaling properties, demonstrating that context-dependent variations in signaling downstream of different KRAS mutants drive the KRAS mutational pattern seen in cancer.