Early diagnosis is a key factor in improving the outcomes of cancer patients. A greater understanding of the pre-diagnostic patient pathways is vital yet, at present, research in this field lacks consistent definitions and methods. As a consequence much early diagnosis research is difficult to interpret. A consensus group was formed with the aim of producing guidance and a checklist for early cancer-diagnosis researchers. A consensus conference approach combined with nominal group techniques was used. The work was supported by a systematic review of early diagnosis literature, focussing on existing instruments used to measure time points and intervals in early cancer-diagnosis research. A series of recommendations for definitions and methodological approaches is presented. This is complemented by a checklist that early diagnosis researchers can use when designing and conducting studies in this field. The Aarhus checklist is a resource for early cancer-diagnosis research that should promote greater precision and transparency in both definitions and methods. Further work will examine whether the checklist can be readily adopted by researchers, and feedback on the guidance will be used in future updates.