Summary. Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is a potent immunomodulatory cytokine that has pathogenic and prognostic significance in a number of disorders. Previous studies in Hodgkin's disease (HD) have demonstrated the association between elevated serum levels of IL-6 and unfavourable prognosis, including advanced stage and the presence of ‘B’ symptoms and with reduced survival. Although IL-6 expression has been demonstrated in both the malignant Hodgkin/Reed–Sternberg (HRS) cells and in the various non-malignant cells present in HD biopsies, a relationship between expression of IL-6 by the tumour and outcome measures has not been established. The study group comprised of 97 patients with advanced HD who were recruited to two related clinical trials. IL-6 expression was determined on paraffin-wax sections of biopsy material by means of an immunohistochemical assay. Of the 97 patients, 27 (28%) showed staining for IL-6 in HRS cells. IL-6 expression by HRS cells was significantly correlated with a decreased likelihood of achieving a complete response to chemotherapy (P = 0·02) and with an increased prevalence of ‘B’ symptoms (P = 0·04). IL-6 expression by HRS cells was not associated with Epstein–Barr virus status (P = 0·57). In summary, the results suggest that IL-6 expression by HRS cells may contribute to the presence of ‘B’ symptoms and to a decreased likelihood to achieve a complete remission in HD patients.