Interleukin-6 predicts recurrence and survival among head and neck cancer patients

Cancer. 2008 Aug 15;113(4):750-7. doi: 10.1002/cncr.23615.


Background: Increased pretreatment serum interleukin (IL)-6 levels among patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) have been shown to correlate with poor prognosis, but sample sizes in prior studies have been small and thus unable to control for other known prognostic variables.

Methods: A longitudinal, prospective cohort study determined the correlation between pretreatment serum IL-6 levels, and tumor recurrence and all-cause survival in a large population (N = 444) of previously untreated HNSCC patients. Control variables included age, sex, smoking, cancer site and stage, and comorbidities. Kaplan-Meier plots and univariate and multivariate Cox proportional hazards models were used to study the association between IL-6 levels, control variables, and time to recurrence and survival.

Results: The median serum IL-6 level was 13 pg/mL (range, 0-453). The 2-year recurrence rate was 35.2% (standard error, 2.67%). The 2-year death rate was 26.5% (standard error, 2.26%). Multivariate analyses showed that serum IL-6 levels independently predicted recurrence at significant levels [hazard ratio (HR) = 1.32; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.11 to 1.58; P = .002] as did cancer site (oral/sinus). Serum IL-6 level was also a significant independent predictor of poor survival (HR = 1.22; 95% CI, 1.02 to 1.46; P = .03), as were older age, smoking, cancer site (oral/sinus), higher cancer stage, and comorbidities.

Conclusions: Pretreatment serum IL-6 could be a valuable biomarker for predicting recurrence and overall survival among HNSCC patients. Using IL-6 as a biomarker for recurrence and survival may allow for earlier identification and treatment of disease relapse.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / blood*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / blood*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Recurrence
  • Survival Rate


  • Biomarkers
  • Interleukin-6