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Cancer Medicine Quackery

Kevin Hennings vs. stage IV colon cancer: Are ivermectin and fenbendazole the new laetrile? (Part one: fenbendazole)

An interview by Jim Breuer with Kevin Hennings, who has stage IV colon cancer, that’s gone viral reminds me that alternative cancer cure testimonials never change; only the cures do. Truly, febendazole is the new laetrile.

Dating back to years before I even started this blog in 2004, one consistent theme in my writing has been deconstructing alternative cancer cure testimonials, in which a patient with cancer claims that some alternative cancer treatment or other cured them when conventional medicine could not. Examples abound, including Suzanne Somers (who, sadly, recently died of widespread recurrence of the breast cancer that she had claimed to have cured), Chris Wark (who is doing well and grifting off an alternative medicine business that he’s built as a result of his story), Farrah Fawcett, many patients treated by Houston cancer quack Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, and more victims of quackery than I can easily recount here, including some at seemingly “reputable” alternative medicine clinics in Europe. Given that, I was hardly surprised when COVID-19 quacks and antivaxxers started—shall we say?—repurposing the already repurposed (and ineffective) drugs that they had touted as highly effective treatments for COVID-19, such as ivermectin, as treatments for cancer as well. The latest example comes in the form of an alternative cancer cure testimonial from a man named Kevin Hennings, whose interview on comedian Jim Breuer’s podcast (on Rumble, of course, and YouTube) from a couple of months ago seems to have gone viral last week. (Just search X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, for Mr. Hennings’ name plus “colon cancer” if you don’t believe me.

Here’s the video:

Before I discuss Mr. Hennings’ story specifically, let’s review a few common features of alternative cancer cure testimonials that make them unreliable as evidence that the treatments tried had any effect:

  • Misunderstanding of the natural history of cancer and survivorship bias. Some cancers, including colon cancer, can have a highly variable natural history. Remember that median survival means nothing more than that half of patients die before the median and half after. One example that I like to point out is a 1962 study of survival in women with untreated breast cancer at Middlesex Hospital in England from 1805-1933 that reported a median survival of 2.7 years, but a long “tail,” with a handful of survivors out as far as 15 years. Many times in these testimonials, the prognosis given (or heard) is far too pessimistic (e.g., “I was sent home to die”) and didn’t take into account the natural variability of cancer. In the cases of colon and breast cancer, for instance, our cancer institute has patients who have survived several years and are doing well. There’s a serious survivorship bias in these testimonials because, as I like to say, dead patients don’t give testimonials. Also, when they say the “doctor was amazed,” sometimes that is more of an indication of a doctor that is inexperienced with cancer than with an outcome far outside of the realm of the expected.
  • Confusing adjuvant therapy for definitive therapy and misattributing their survival to quackery. There’s a whole subgenre of alternative cancer cure testimonials in which the patient giving the testimonial have undergone surgery for a solid tumor—again, commonly breast or colorectal—underwent curative surgery for the cancer but then refused adjuvant therapy, be it chemotherapy, endocrine therapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy in favor of whatever quackery they chose. (Examples include Chris Wark, Suzanne Somers, and many others.) Inevitably, if they survive they attribute their good fortune to the quackery, not to the definitive surgery that cured them, forgetting that the adjuvant therapy only decreases the chance of relapse after surgery and that surgery was what cured them. Sometimes, as Chris Wark did, they acknowledge this argument but then find a reason to claim that “surgery never cures patients like me.”
  • Misdiagnosis by quacks. A number of alternative cancer testimonials feature failure to actually diagnose cancer by accepted methodology, substituting instead diagnoses by quacks using unscientific methodology that doesn’t include an actual tissue diagnosis from a pathologist.
  • General vagueness. One thing. that I’ve learned dealing with alternative cancer cure testimonials like Mr. Hennings’ and all the other ones that I’ve been deconstructing fort two decades is that the testimonials are nearly always frustratingly vague from an oncological standpoint in a way that makes it very difficult to tell exactly what the patient had, how the tumor was treated, what the true stage actually was, and more. I’ve used my training as a surgical oncologist and cancer surgeon to infer from these testimonials what the true situation probably was, but one can never be sure.
  • Old testimonials. This doesn’t apply to Mr. Hennings’ testimonial, but often the ultimate outcome of these patients is death. However, testimonials often have an afterlife and live on, promoted by quacks long after the patient has died without a mention that the patient did ultimately die of cancer.

There are more features in addition to these, but when examining any alternative cancer cure testimonial, here are a few useful questions:

  • Was the cancer still present when the alternative therapy was started? (Again, often surgery eliminated the cancer, and the patient is confusing cure with adjuvant therapy designed to decrease the risk of relapse.)
  • Were all treatments disclosed? I forgot to mention above that often not all conventional treatments are described in these testimonials. Sometimes, I only find out that a patient had surgery by doing a deep Google dive to find all the appearances and interviews that I can, and even then I only find it mentioned in passing on social media posts by the patient.
  • Was there ever a biopsy proving the existence of cancer? Were there reliable scans proving metastasis? You’d be surprised at how often the answer to one or both of these questions is no.

Now, let’s take a look at Mr. Hennings’ testimonial, keeping all these points in mind.

According to the interview, Mr. Hennings had just turned 50 at the time of his interview with Mr. Breuer in November. In any event, the teaser at the beginning featured Mr. Hennings saying:

The doctor comes out looks at my hand does a couple capillary reflex things you know but on my nails there’s no blood. In my body. All of my blood was going to feed a tumor that I had no idea about.

From this, my interpretation is that Mr. Hennings was probably very anemic. I can also see why Mr. Breuer (or his producer) chose this quote as the “teaser” for the interview. It’s very dramatic sounding and makes it sound as though Mr. Hennings was at death’s door when diagnosed. To introduce the interview, Mr. Breuer posted a screenshot of this text:

Kevin Hennings
William Makis? That “turbo cancer” quack? Also, note how he’s using the same tired old cancer quack tropes about how it’s “cheap” and “big pharma” can’t make any money off of it. Seriously, what year is this? 1975? Truly, Fenbendazole and ivermectin are the new laetrile.

After this, Breuer went on and on about how Dr. Makis claims that fenbendazole has “twelve different anticancer mechanisms in vitro and in vivo,” which is lovely but doesn’t mean that it works against cancer in humans. As I like to emphasize, many are the putative cancer drugs that look promising against cancer cells in cell culture and even in rodent models of cancer but fail in humans. I also like to note that a 2013 study of fenbendazole and cancer observed:

Intensive treatments with fenbendazole were toxic to EMT6 cells in vitro; toxicity increased with incubation time and under conditions of severe hypoxia. Fenbendazole did not alter the dose-response curves for radiation or docetaxel; instead, the agents produced additive cytotoxicities. Febendazole in maximally-intensive regimens did not alter the growth of EMT6 tumors, or increase the antineoplastic effects of radiation.

And concluded:

These studies provided no evidence that fenbendazole would have value in cancer therapy, but suggested that this general class of compounds merits further investigation.

Truly, this is weak gruel indeed.

Getting back to Hennings’ story, he is a former Marine, something emphasized repeatedly, including through his having been diagnosed at a VA Medical Clinic, no doubt to emphasize his pre-illness health. However, he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2019 (“just before the madness kicked in”), which led me to express relief that he likely wasn’t going to claim that this was a “turbo cancer” caused by COVID-19 vaccines. At that time, he was down in the Florida Keys running a fishing business, about which he noted that he had been “burning the candle at both ends working and partying. (Also, his brother is a chiropractor, which leads me to think that Hennings has been susceptible to woo for a long time.) Apparently his brother and sister (the latter of whom is a nurse practitioner) saw him at a family reunion and told him he “looked like shit,” really sick. During this time, apparently he’d be passed out by the shower, and his property manager would see him lying in the bathroom naked by the shower. So, yeah, it sounds as though he was pretty sick but also in denial, refusing to go to a doctor and find out what was wrong. At one point in the interview, he admitted that he had been bleeding from his anus but said that he thought he had hemorrhoids, even though the blood he described was bright red. (Hemorrhoids are large veins, and when they bleed it’s venous not arterial, and therefore not bright red.)

Ultimately, he went to a VA walk-in clinic in Key Largo after canceling a trip, where they had trouble drawing blood, which led to the dramatic quote above about the doctor checking his capillary refill under his fingernails (at around 17:18). He ended up being admitted to the Miami VA Hospital, where received blood transfusions and was diagnosed with a “ginormous” colon cancer. Now here’s where it gets interesting (and keep in mind the questions above). Hennings repeatedly says that he was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer, but this quote makes me wonder. This sounds like it could be stage IV:

It had already gotten into my lymph nodes and spread through my body.

But then:

The funniest thing is, it never landed on an organ.

So, if this statement is accurate, Hennings’ cancer likely wasn’t stage IV. For colorectal cancer, tumor in the regional lymph nodes does not by itself mean stage IV, although nodal involvement does bump the stage to at least stage III. By the TNM staging classification, a colorectal cancer is not stage IV unless it has spread to distant organs, such as lung, liver or elsewhere, although there is an exception. Carcinomatosis, in which the tumor has spread along the peritoneal lining to distant parts of the peritoneal cavity, is stage IVc. Was this the case for Hennings? I had to find out.

First, though, I must say that I didn’t know that Jim Breuer’s wife had been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in 2017 after having been treated for what sounds like stage II breast cancer in 2012. There’s a point where Breuer referred to the “Brocker gene” (the BRCA1 gene, most likely), which is a breast cancer susceptibility gene, and made a joke about how that’s a gene associated with the Ashkenazi Jewish population and somehow his wife must have some Jewish background. In any event, she got on a clinical trial and is still alive. Remember what I said about how some patients with stage IV breast cancer now do very well these days? It sounds as though Dee Breuer is one of those fortunate patients, having survived more than five years with metastatic breast cancer, and her good fortune is probably why Breuer was susceptible to Hennings’ anecdote.

Breuer’s experience with cancer aside, apparently Mr. Hennings had family connections that got him transferred to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, where he had a port placed and met with the appropriate specialists in surgical, medical, and radiation oncology. For reasons that are unclear to me, he underwent surgery first. Given that this was Moffitt and that Moffitt is an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center (as is the one where I work), one of only 56 in the country and that the doctors there are generally top-notch, I have to assume that the decision was made because there was no clear indication for neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy given before surgery to shrink a tumor and/or make an inoperable tumor operable). A “hard” indication for neoadjuvant therapy include tumors invading all the way through the colon wall, while “softer” indications include node-positive disease. In any event, Mr. Hennings describes having surgery thusly:

…they want to get the tumors out yeah so I go right into surgery and uh they remove 15 centimeters of disease…well one one tumor that was in one Direction and five in the other direction so I don’t know how you would measure that but okay, and then they took the better part of my colon out…

It’s really hard to tell from this just what the extent of disease was, although it sounds as though he likely had a major portion of his colon resected. Indeed, it is soon revealed that they removed his rectum as well and that he had an ileostomy, all of which suggests to me that he had a low-lying rectal cancer, not a colon cancer. The surgeon in me interprets this as his having had his rectum and a significant part of his descending colon removed, with a temporary ileostomy proximally to protect the anastomosis (where they hook the ends of the colon and rectum together) from fecal contamination while it heals. I could be wrong, but remember the part above about vagueness and lack of relevant information in these testimonials that lets a professional know what happened. This was then followed by three years of chemotherapy. It is entirely unclear whether he still had residual cancer or why they would give him chemotherapy for this long. Nowhere does he actually say that he has residual cancer, and I know that if he had carcinomatosis surgeons would never have done a major resection with curative intent. The point is that, consistent with what I say about alternative cancer cure testimonials, Mr. Hennings had a lot of conventional cancer therapy, including surgery and chemotherapy.

Like most cancer cure testimonials, at some point Mr. Hennings heard a story of a friend of a friend who had “the same cancer” as he did at the same time as he did who opted out of chemotherapy and was still alive and kicking. After one round of chemotherapy, his wife (who was a veterinarian) started giving him fenbendazole on the basis of the idea that “cancer is parasitic.” It further turns out that the couple was from Brazil, which led Mr. Breuer to conspiratorially intone, “They’re not from the FDA, the very trusted FDA.” Mr. Hennings also stated that he was going to meet with a social worker to arrange hospice for him. Again, the whole story is very odd and lacks details that would allow an oncologist to critically examine it, but it did contain the classic, “They sent me home (or to hospice) to die” element that so many of these stories have.

Whatever happened and whatever Mr. Hennings’ clinical situation was, Mr. Breuer asked him, “What was the drug you were on?” The response:

OK, so it’s a fenbendazole-based cocktail. I call it a cocktail right because it’s five different ingredients.

There’s also a bit of a problem with the timeline. Remember, the claim was that Hennings was treated with chemotherapy for three years, but he says he started taking the cocktail on September 2, 2021, which was only two years after his diagnosis. Wait, what? Was he on chemotherapy for three years or less than two? He was going to hospice two years after his diagnosis but then “took a leap of faith” and started taking this fenbendazole-based cocktail? He took this for six weeks, at which point he had a previously scheduled set of scans at Moffitt “on the books” but described himself as “starting to eat” and gain some weight.

Now here’s another thing. He also said that he was a “slave to plumbing” because of frequent bowel movements, which led me to think that perhaps he had had a subtotal colectomy with some sort of ileal pouch done to replace the rectum. (The ileum is the terminal part of the small intestine.) If this were the case, it would make perfect sense that he had had a diverting ileostomy. Here’s what confused me. If he still had that ileostomy, then he wouldn’t be a “slave” to plumbing, which is why I have to infer that he must at some point had the ileostomy reversed. I also know that people who have had ileal pouches constructed to replace the functionality of the rectum often have multiple loose or even watery bowel movements a day, often 5-10 per day. Alternatively, he could have had most of his colon removed, with a direct anastomosis between ileum and what was left of his colon, protected by a diverting ileostomy until it healed. Such patients often also have multiple bowel movements per day because they have lost a lot of the colon and its ability to remove water from the intestinal contents coming through it.

Whatever he had had, an ileal pouch or a direct anastomosis to a small segment of remaining colon and rectum (and he did say that he had his rectum removed, which makes me favor the likelihood that he had an ileal pouch, at this point in the interview, it was sounding more and more as though Mr. Henning had had his ileostomy reversed before this, which would not have been done if he had been at death’s door with widely metastatic colorectal cancer and certainly would not have been done if he had had carcinomatosis. See the problem? His story is not just vague, but it has lots of medical/surgical inconsistencies. Whatever the reason, however, he started to have fewer bowel movements per day and “could leave the house.” This, too, can happen with an ileal pouch after time to adapt. Who knows what happened or when he had his ileostomy reversed?

Be that as it may, Mr. Hennings recounted at this point that his scans showed “50% less disease.” This was the first indication that he had residual or recurrent disease. Now, remember that he had only been off chemotherapy a fairly brief period of time, which led the doctors to say that it was residual effects from the chemotherapy, which was the most likely explanation. Then, apparently 14 weeks later he had a scan with no evidence of residual disease. Again, this all sounds as though the tumor had been eliminated by the chemotherapy in a delayed fashion, but of course Mr. Hennings attributes his good fortune to his “cocktail.” Of course, there’s no clinical evidence that this combination can reverse stage IV colorectal cancer, as I saw from Mr. Hennings’ post describing this “cocktail” on his Facebook page along with documentation of the science behind it notwithstanding.

For instance, this is the featured post:

Kevin Hennings' cocktail

I perused every one of these links, and let’s just say that they do not support this cocktail for any cancer. Many of the articles are not peer-reviewed studies or review articles, and among those that are what I see are mainly cell culture and mouse studies. One is an article on AHCC from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center that concludes that there is currently no clinical evidence of efficacy, while another concludes only that “more studies are required and justified to clarify cimetidine’s protherapeutic activity.” Still another is a link to another alternative cancer cure testimonial by Joe Tippens, who apparently came up with this cocktail. (It looks as though I’m going to have to do a post on this one too.) Seriously, this is pretty thin gruel even by the standards of previous alternative cancer cure testimonials that I’ve deconstructed.

If there’s anything that pandemic has taught me, it’s that antivax and quackery are very much intertwined and that in the world of antivax and quackery there is nothing new under the sun. Once ivermectin and fenbendazole were touted as COVID-19 cures, it was inevitable that quacks would “repurpose” them again for other diseases, such as cancer, and so they did. (I’m only surprised that they haven’t “repurposed hydroxychloroquine this way yet.)

Back in the 1970s, there were alternative cancer cure testimonials that very much resemble that of Kevin Hennings. Only the drugs have changed. The lack of strong clinical evidence surely has not, nor have the vagueness, misunderstanding of adjuvant therapy, and lack of clinical detail necessary to judge whether the anecdote might be indicative of an actual treatment effect. Moreover, this is an asymmetrical narrative. Hennings can say anything he wants about his cancer and its treatment, but his oncologists at Moffitt are constrained by HIPAA and professional ethics from laying out clinically relevant details that could allow other professionals (like Orac) infer whether his clinical course represents a true response to treatment with the fenbendazole cocktail. Indeed, the very fact that his Moffitt doctors are not touting his story and designing clinical trials based on his claimed “miraculous” response to the cocktail suggest to me that they don’t think it had anything to do with how well he’s doing, his conspiracy mongering about how M.D. Anderson Cancer Center had supposedly done a clinical trial of cimetidine against cancer in the 1980s that “cured them all” but was then suppressed by the cancer industry. (The only thing I could find was this 1987 article from an investigator at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center that noted that cimetidine “has been used in the treatment of human cancer in combination with interferon or coumarin and as a single agent” but that only modest “tumor response rates have been observed.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m always happy when someone like Kevin Hennings does well after cancer treatment, and I sincerely hope that he continues to do so. However, if he really wants to convince professionals that it was the cocktail and not the conventional treatment that drove his cancer into remission (if driven into remission his cancer even was), then he can do a very simple thing. Release his medical records, including scans, or, if that’s too much, agree to release them to a panel of skeptical oncologists and surgeons with relevant expertise (like myself) for review and analysis. His current story is, as is the case for damned near all alternative medicine cancer cure testimonials, too vague and lacking in relevant clinical information to demonstrate anything about the efficacy of the Tippens cocktail against cancer, leaving as the most parsimonious explanation for Mr. Hennings’ response his conventional treatment.

Same as it ever was. Truly, fenbendazole is the new laetrile. But is ivermectin? Stay tuned. I included it in the title for a reason.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

9 replies on “Kevin Hennings vs. stage IV colon cancer: Are ivermectin and fenbendazole the new laetrile? (Part one: fenbendazole)”

In 2011, I had stage IV (spread to the liver) and they just did surgery with no prior treatment or chemo. They took 10 cm I guess right at the colon/rectal border, so I don’t have any external plumbing. I was saved by a miracle drug, too, but it was Erbetux, not anything quacky.

I am still fine – though I am due for a colonoscopy.

You are very fortunate to have survived stage IV colon cancer after 13 years. I have a friend who had a colon cancer that was too large to surgically remove, so they first shrunk the mass with chemotherapy. When the tumour was eventually removed, no surviving cancer cells were found in the necrotic mass, and there have been no recurrences after about 8 years. He is now in his 70s.

On the other hand, I know of a newly married 28-year-old who was diagnosed soon after his first ever rectal bleed, but he did not survive longer than a few years. Tragically his father got the same diagnosis at the same age and survived, but he was never told to warn his children to get regular colonoscopies from the age of 18-23.

Typing again after “nonce verification failed’.

I have a question for Orac. He mentioned that there were historically known unexpected cancer remissions.

How much have those been studied? Were the initial diagnoses correct? Anything known about those cases?

Thanks!

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