Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 138, Issue 3, pp 657–664 | Cite as

The role of intratumoral and systemic IL-6 in breast cancer

  • Christine Dethlefsen
  • Grith Højfeldt
  • Pernille HojmanEmail author


Chronic low-grade inflammation plays an important role in the pathogenesis of several cancer forms including breast cancer. The pleiotropic cytokine IL-6 is a key player in systemic inflammation, regulating both the inflammatory response and tissue metabolism during acute stimulations. Here, we review the associations between IL-6 and breast cancer ranging from in vitro cell culture studies to clinical studies, covering the role of IL-6 in controlling breast cancer cell growth, regulation of cancer stem cell renewal, as well as breast cancer cell migration. Moreover, associations between circulating IL-6 and risk of breast cancer, prognosis for patients with prevalent disease, adverse effects and interventions to control systemic IL-6 levels in patients are discussed. In summary, direct application of IL-6 on breast cancer cells inhibits proliferation in estrogen receptor positive cells, while high circulating IL-6 levels are correlated with a poor prognosis in breast cancer patients. This discrepancy reflects distinct roles of IL-6, with elevated systemic levels being a biomarker for tumor burden, physical inactivity, and impaired metabolism, while local intratumoral IL-6 signaling is important for controlling breast cancer cell growth, metastasis, and self renewal of cancer stem cells.


Interleukin 6 Breast cancer Prognostic marker Cancer stem cell Cancer cell growth Metastasis 



The Centre of Inflammation and Metabolism (CIM) is supported by a grant from the Danish National Research Foundation (# 02-512-55). This study was further supported by the Danish Medical Research Council, and Rigshospitalets Research Funds. CIM is part of the UNIK Project: Food, Fitness & Pharma for Health and Disease, supported by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.


The authors have nothing to disclose.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine Dethlefsen
    • 1
  • Grith Højfeldt
    • 1
  • Pernille Hojman
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Infectious DiseasesCentre of Inflammation and Metabolism, RigshospitaletCopenhagenDenmark

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