Cellular senescence suppresses cancer by stably arresting the proliferation of damaged cells 1. Paradoxically, senescent cells also secrete factors that alter tissue microenvironments 2. The pathways regulating this secretion are unknown. We show that damaged human cells develop persistent chromatin lesions bearing hallmarks of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), which initiate increased secretion of inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6). Cytokine secretion occurred only after establishment of persistent DNA damage signaling, usually associated with senescence, not after transient DNA damage responses (DDR). Initiation and maintenance of this cytokine response required the DDR proteins ATM, NBS1 and CHK2, but not the cell cycle arrest enforcers p53 and pRb. ATM was also essential for IL-6 secretion during oncogene-induced senescence and by damaged cells that bypass senescence. Further, DDR activity and IL-6 were elevated in human cancers, and ATM-depletion suppressed the ability of senescent cells to stimulate IL-6-dependent cancer cell invasiveness. Thus, in addition to orchestrating cell cycle checkpoints and DNA repair, a novel and important role of the DDR is to allow damaged cells to communicate their compromised state to the surrounding tissue.