Colitis-associated cancer (CAC) is the most serious complication of inflammatory bowel disease. Proinflammatory cytokines have been suggested to regulate preneoplastic growth during CAC tumorigenesis. Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is a multifunctional NF-kappaB-regulated cytokine that acts on epithelial and immune cells. Using genetic tools, we now demonstrate that IL-6 is a critical tumor promoter during early CAC tumorigenesis. In addition to enhancing proliferation of tumor-initiating cells, IL-6 produced by lamina propria myeloid cells protects normal and premalignant intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) from apoptosis. The proliferative and survival effects of IL-6 are largely mediated by the transcription factor Stat3, whose IEC-specific ablation has profound impact on CAC tumorigenesis. Thus, the NF-kappaB-IL-6-Stat3 cascade is an important regulator of the proliferation and survival of tumor-initiating IECs.