Systematic literature review of IL-6 as a biomarker or treatment target in patients with gastric, bile duct, pancreatic and colorectal cancer

Noomi Vainer, Christian Dehlendorff and Julia S. Johansen _

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Oncotarget. 2018; 9:29820-29841. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.25661

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Noomi Vainer1, Christian Dehlendorff2 and Julia S. Johansen1,3,4

1Department of Oncology, Herlev and Gentofte Hospital, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark

2Statistics and Pharmacoepidemiology, Danish Cancer Society Research Center, Copenhagen, Denmark

3Department of Medicine, Herlev and Gentofte Hospital, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark

4Institute of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Correspondence to:

Julia S. Johansen, email: [email protected]

Keywords: biomarker; gastrointestinal cancer; interleukin-6; therapeutic target

Received: December 09, 2017     Accepted: June 04, 2018     Published: July 03, 2018


Gastrointestinal cancer (GI) is a major health problem. Patients with gastric, pancreatic, colorectal, bile duct and gall bladder cancer often have advanced disease at the time of diagnosis and are generally difficult to cure, resulting in a dismal prognosis for most patients. Inflammation plays an important role in the development and growth of cancer, which has led to a growing interest in the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin 6 (IL-6).

The aim of the present review was to evaluate the clinical use of IL-6 as a biomarker or therapeutic target in patients with GI cancer. We did a systematic review of studies (1993–2018), to assess the clinical use of IL-6 as a diagnostic, prognostic or predictive tumor biomarker or as a potential therapeutic target.

This review includes 48 studies and 5316 patients. Circulating IL-6 levels appear to be an independent prognostic biomarker in patients with GI cancer, with high IL-6 levels associated with short overall survival (OS). The results for colorectal cancer were too ambiguous to give conclusive results. IL-6 seemed to be a marker for some of the clinical characteristics of GI cancer, and may have a role in the diagnostic workup in general practice. No published studies have examined the use of IL-6 as a therapeutic target in pancreatic, gastric, bile duct or colorectal cancer.

In conclusion, high circulating IL-6 was associated with short OS in most studies in GI cancer patients. Whether inhibition of IL-6 would decrease GI cancer symptoms and increase quality of life is unknown.

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