Oncology Nursing Stories: Acupuncture Helps Thyroid Cancer Survivor Taper Opioid Use


In this episode of "The Vitals," Heather Jackson, PhD, FNP-BC, NEA-BC, FAANP, shares her experience helping a patient reduce their opioid use through acupuncture treatments.

Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, can deliver significant benefits when used in combination with standard therapies, according to Heather Jackson, PhD, FNP-BC, NEA-BC, FAANP.

In this episode of The Vitals, Jackson, who is administrative director of advanced practice at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, discusses how complementary acupuncture helped one thyroid cancer survivor achieve his goal of stopping opioid use to manage his cancer-related pain. Throughout the discussion, she highlights common questions patients have about acupuncture, what different forms of treatment are available, and how providers can assess the efficacy of the integrative therapy.

“My advice would be to always consider [acupuncture] as an adjunct [option],” Jackson says. “There is a lot of miscommunication sometimes with complementary therapies, [where] people will assume that’s the only option. That’s not what we’re saying. When we say complementary, we [mean] in addition to.”

Episode Notes:

“He was still having a lot of facial pain [in] his left cheek and neck and TMJ [temporomandibular joint dysfunction] pain. He had been taking oxycodone—15 mg 4 times a day but he came to me and said, ‘I’m a father, I’m a husband. And it’s really sedating for me. I can’t sit down at meals, I can’t enjoy social activities, anything I do is uncomfortable.’ ” Time stamp TS 02:19

“I looked at his medicine regimen and I said, ‘Well, it’s not the cure all. But I think it could be a piece of the pie.’ When we think about treating pain, if you’re going to treat the whole person, you have to think about all the different aspects of the person.” TS 03:09

“The acupuncture that we do in our clinic is a modified acupuncture technique. It’s not full body, it’s limited to the ear. They call it auricular acupuncture.” TS 05:19

“He’s actually not in my clinic anymore because we got him off of everything. I think he just needed help getting through that period of getting off the medicine.” TS 12:10

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Jackson HJ, Peal K. Auricular acupuncture for the treatment of cancer-related pain. Oncology Issues.2022;37(4):32-35. doi:10.1080/10463356.2022.2079353

Jackson HJ, Walters J, Raman R. Auricular acupuncture to facilitate outpatient opioid weaning: a randomized pilot study. Med Acupunct. 2021;33(2):153-158. doi:10.1089/acu.2020.1450

Jackson HJ, López C, Miller S, Englehardt B. Neonatal abstinence syndrome: an integrative review of neonatal acupuncture to inform a protocol for adjunctive treatment. Adv Neonatal Care. 2019;19(3):165-178. doi:10.1097/ANC.0000000000000630

Jackson HJ, Lopez C, Miller S, Engelhardt B. A acoping review of acupuncture as a potential intervention for neonatal abstinence syndrome. Med Acupunct. 2019;31(2):69-84. doi:10.1089/acu.2018.1323

Jackson HJ, Lopez C, Miller S, Englehardt B. Feasibility of auricular acupressure as an adjunct treatment for neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS). Subst Abus. 2021;42(3):348-357. doi:10.1080/08897077.2020.1784360

Jackson HJ, Reneau MG, Hande K. A scoping review of measures utilized to assess patient satisfaction with acupuncture treatments within randomized controlled trials. Med Acupunct. 2022;34(5):308-315. doi:10.1089/acu.2022.0015

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