A patient with stage 4 cancer received false information via social media that the antihelmintic drug fenbendazole, which is used to treat parasites in dogs, cures lung cancer. The information originated from a YouTube video by Joe Tippens, an American cancer patient who claimed that he took oral fenbendazole as part of his regimen and his tumor shrunk. The false information spread rapidly among patients worldwide. The patient stopped receiving pembrolizumab, an immune checkpoint inhibitor, and started taking oral fenbendazole. She then experienced severe liver injury from the medication.
Our study aims to examine the process of information acquisition, the quality of the obtained information, and the perceptions about it among cancer patients. For the data collection, we conducted semistructured interviews with nine cancer patients. Patients were recruited through a cancer support group. They had undergone surgery or chemotherapy for a tumor that was diagnosed three months to five years before the interview date.
The patients were asked about the channels and sources of information they gathered on fenbendazole and general cancer information daily. They also provided information about their general state of health and their expectations about the treatment. In addition, the patients were asked to describe the information that they felt was reliable and not reliable. The participants’ responses are summarized in Table 1.
Most of the participants were exposed to a wide range of information daily, including both true and false cancer information. In addition, many of them were actively searching for complementary and alternative medicine information, such as fenbendazole, through the Internet portal sites or cancer communities. However, the information they received was fragmented and unorganized.
A few of the participants were exposed to the fenbendazole scandal, but most did not hear about it. When the participants were asked about the source of the false information on fenbendazole, two patients reported having directly looked up the original videos of Joe Tippens on YouTube. The other patients had obtained the information on fenbendazole and on general cancer information from their doctors or through other media channels.
Fenbendazole has a chemical structure similar to that of compounds known to act as radiosensitizers, but it does not affect the radiation response of EMT6 tumor cells in vitro. To confirm this, three experiments were performed. EMT6 tumors were injected with either three daily i.p. injections of fenbendazole, 10 Gy of x-rays, or the combination of both. The growth of each tumor was monitored by measuring the time to four-fold volume. The data show that fenbendazole alone did not influence the growth of unirradiated tumors, but it significantly increased the sensitivity of irradiated tumors to docetaxel (Figure 3). fenbendazole stage 4 cancer