The IL-6 family of cytokines consists of IL-6, IL-11, IL-27, IL-31, oncostatin M (OSM), leukaemia inhibitory factor (LIF), ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF), cardiotrophin 1 (CT-1) and cardiotrophin-like cytokine factor 1 (CLCF1). Membership of this cytokine family is defined by usage of common β-receptor signalling subunits, which activate various intracellular signalling pathways. Each IL-6 family member elicits responses essential to the physiological control of immune homeostasis, haematopoiesis, inflammation, development and metabolism. Accordingly, distortion of these cytokine activities often promotes chronic disease and cancer; the pathological importance of this is exemplified by the successful treatment of certain autoimmune conditions with drugs that target the IL-6 pathway. Here, we discuss the emerging roles for IL-6 family members in infection, chronic inflammation, autoimmunity and cancer and review therapeutic strategies designed to manipulate these cytokines in disease.