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.