We introduce a method to determine a structural distance between any pair of molecular scaffolds. The development of this approach was motivated by the need to accurately evaluate scaffold hopping studies in virtual screening and medicinal chemistry and assess the degree of difficulty involved in facilitating a transition from one structure to another. In order to consistently derive structural distances, scaffolds of different composition and topology are subjected to molecular editing procedures that abstract from original scaffolds in a defined manner until compositional and topological equivalence can be established. Pairs of corresponding scaffold representations are transformed into one-dimensional atom sequences that are aligned using approaches adapted from biological sequence comparison. From best scoring atom sequence alignments, interscaffold distances are derived. The algorithm is evaluated at different levels including the analysis of a series of model scaffolds with defined chemical changes, a scaffold library, and scaffolds from reference compounds and hits of successful virtual screening applications. It is demonstrated that chemically intuitive scaffold distances are obtained for pairs of scaffolds with varying composition and topology. Distance threshold values for close and remote structural relationships between scaffolds are also determined. The methodology is made publicly available in order to provide a basis for a consistent assessment of scaffold hopping ability and to aid in the evaluation and comparison of virtual screening methods.