Chronic inflammation is an established risk factor for the onset of cancer, and the inflammatory cytokine IL-6 has a role in tumorigenesis by enhancing proliferation and hindering apoptosis. As factors stimulating proliferation also downregulate p53 expression by enhancing ribosome biogenesis, we hypothesized that IL-6 may cause similar changes in inflamed tissues, thus activating a mechanism that favors neoplastic transformation. Here, we showed that IL-6 downregulated the expression and activity of p53 in transformed and untransformed human cell lines. This was the consequence of IL-6-dependent stimulation of c-MYC mRNA translation, which was responsible for the upregulation of rRNA transcription. The enhanced rRNA transcription stimulated the MDM2-mediated proteasomal degradation of p53, by reducing the availability of ribosome proteins for MDM2 binding. The p53 downregulation induced the acquisition of cellular phenotypic changes characteristic of epithelial-mesenchymal transition, such as a reduced level of E-cadherin expression, increased cell invasiveness and a decreased response to cytotoxic stresses. We found that these changes also occurred in colon epithelial cells of patients with ulcerative colitis, a very representative example of chronic inflammation at high risk for tumor development. Histochemical and immunohistochemical analysis of colon biopsy samples showed an upregulation of ribosome biogenesis, a reduced expression of p53, together with a focal reduction or absence of E-cadherin expression in chronic colitis in comparison with normal mucosa samples. These changes disappeared after treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs. Taken together, the present results highlight a new mechanism that may link chronic inflammation to cancer, based on p53 downregulation, which is activated by the enhancement of rRNA transcription upon IL-6 exposure.