Thoracic surgical oncologist James Isbell

James M. Isbell, MD, MSCI

Thoracic Surgical Oncologist & Intensive Care Specialist

Titles

Director, Quality and Outcomes, Thoracic Surgery Service, Director, Memorial Hospital Step Down Unit, Co-Director, Thoracic Liquid Biopsy Program

Clinical Expertise

Lung Cancer; Minimally Invasive Surgery, Robotic Surgery; Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS); Esophageal Cancer; Esophageal Disorders; Mediastinal Tumors; Thymic Tumors; Chest Wall Tumors; Pulmonary Metastases; Mesothelioma; Endobronchial Ultrasound (EBUS); Pleural Diseases; Liquid Biopsy

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New Patient Appointments

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Mon–Fri,
Accepted Insurance Providers

Dr. Isbell accepts the following list of insurance providers. Select your insurance provider to see more details.

Aetna

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with Aetna HMO, POS, and PPO plans. Aetna does not include us in any of the plans you can purchase through the insurance exchanges or through Medicare. Please ask your insurance if you need a one-time referral. MSK has an agreement with the Aetna Transplant Program for all Aetna's commercial products.

Blue Cross Blue Shield

In New York State

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield (Wellpoint) of New York HMO, EPO, PPO, and POS plans, with the following exceptions:

  • Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield does not include us in any of the plans you can buy through the insurance exchanges.
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering is not an in-network provider for Empire's Medicare Managed Care plan known as Mediblue).
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering is a designated Center of Excellence by Blue Cross Blue Shield.

In New Jersey

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with some Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey plans for individuals, families, and small businesses. For example, the PPO plan is in-network with our Manhattan locations. 

Horizon Blue Cross HMO is only in-network with our Basking Ridge, Bergen and Monmouth locations. It does not allow access to our Manhattan facilities.

Horizon Blue Cross PPO is in network with our Basking Ridge, Bergen, Monmouth and Manhattan locations.

OMNIA Plans: Tier I EPO based plan policy is only in-network with our Basking Ridge, Bergen and Monmouth locations and does not allow access to our Manhattan sites. Tier II EPO is only in-network with our Manhattan sites if it is a blue-card plan (there would be a suitcase logo indicating PPO on the front of the card).

Other plans may only be in-network at our Basking Ridge, Bergen or Monmouth locations.

Outside New York State and New Jersey

Some, but not all, Blue Cross Blue Shield plans outside of New York and New Jersey include Memorial Sloan Kettering as an in-network provider. Contact your insurance to find out if your plan provides in-network access to Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Health Insurance Exchanges

We understand that there may be many complexities involved with insurance coverage purchased through the health exchange network of the Affordable Care Act. We’re here to help. If you have questions about how your care will be covered by an insurance provider, or need help navigating a change in coverage, please call us at 646-227-3378; if you are not a resident of New York, you can call us at 866-248-1274. Our team is here to listen to your concerns and assist you in any way we can. We want our care to be as accessible and affordable for as many people as possible.

CIGNA

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with CIGNA's HMO, POS, and PPO plans. CIGNA does not include us in any of the plans you can buy through the insurance exchanges.

  • If you are a New York State resident: Please ask your insurance if you need a one-time referral.
  • If you live outside of New York State: Please ask your insurance if you have in-network access to Memorial Sloan Kettering.
EmblemHealth (including GHI, HIP, ConnectiCare, and Vytra)

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with EmblemHealth’s PPO, EPO, POS, HMO plans and Medicare plans. Emblem Health does not include us in any of its Select Care network plans. EmblemHealth includes GHI, HIP, Vytra, and ConnecticCare (in NYS Only). You must bring a referral from your Emblem primary care doctor to your first appointment.

HealthFirst

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with HealthFirst’s commercial products; these commercial products are not purchased on the insurance exchanges.

HealthSmart

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with HealthSmart’s Accel, HSPC, and HPO networks.

Humana

Memorial Sloan Kettering is a designated Center of Excellence by Humana.

Interlink Health Services

Memorial Sloan Kettering is a designated Center of Excellence by Interlink Health Services.

Lifetrac

Memorial Sloan Kettering is a designated Center of Excellence by Lifetrac.

MagnaCare

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider for all MagnaCare health plans except those products you can buy through the insurance exchanges.

Medicaid

New York State Medicaid covers physician and hospital services at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Patients are responsible for co-payments. We also have contractual relationships involving Medicaid Managed Care plans.

Medicare

Hospital and physician services at Memorial Sloan Kettering are covered by standard Medicare insurance. You are responsible for co-insurance and deductible costs. 

In New York: Memorial Sloan Kettering’s New York locations are in-network with the Emblem Medicare Advantage Plans.

In New Jersey: Memorial Sloan Kettering’s  New Jersey locations in Basking Ridge, Bergen and Monmouth are in-network with the Horizon Medicare Advantage Plan. This plan is not accepted for care provided at MSK’s New York locations.

If you are enrolled in any other Medicare Advantage plan, please contact your insurance carrier to determine your benefits and coverage at Memorial Sloan Kettering since your access may be limited.

Multiplan/Beech Street/PHCS

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with some Multiplan/Beech Street/PHCS plans. Contact your insurance carrier to find out if your plan provides in-network access to Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Memorial Sloan Kettering is a designated Center of Excellence by Multiplan.

Multiple Insurance Plans

If you are covered by more than one insurance plan, you will want to determine your benefits from both plans. First, you need to determine which one is your primary insurance provider by contacting your employee benefits office or your insurance carriers. After you find out which is your primary insurance provider, you should then contact your insurance carrier to determine if you have access to Memorial Sloan Kettering.

MVP

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with some MVP plans. Contact your insurance carrier to find out if your plan provides in-network access to Memorial Sloan Kettering.

New York State Employee Health Insurance Plan (Empire Plan)

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider for New York State employees who have enrolled in UnitedHealthcare's Cancer Resource Services. If you have the Empire Plan, you should call Cancer Resources Services at 866-936-6002 to verify and enroll in this coverage.

Oscar

Memorial Sloan Kettering is in-network with Oscar’s Circle Plus Network, a part of its Small Group Broad line that is offered only to select small business groups. Oscar does not include Memorial Sloan Kettering as an in-network provider for any of its individual plans. Please confirm eligibility with your insurance carrier. 

Other Coverage Options

We have agreements with several insurance companies that may provide additional coverage for cancer patients. These benefit programs include:

  • AXA Assistance USA
  • Beech Street
  • Integrated Health Plans
  • National Health Administrators
  • National Preferred Provider Network
  • UnitedHealthcare's Cancer Resource Services
  • United Resource Network
  • Veterans Choice Program
Oxford

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with Oxford’s Freedom and Liberty plans as well as the Metro Plan (which is only offered to small business groups and no longer offered as individual plans). Please confirm with your insurance if you need a one-time referral. Note: Oxford’s Medicare Managed Care plan — Secure Horizon — does not include Memorial Sloan Kettering as an in-network provider. Oxford does not include us in any of the plans you can buy through the insurance exchanges.

World Trade Center Health Program

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with the World Trade Center Health Program.

QualCare

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with QualCare's PPO and HMO/POS network.

Specialty Care Management

Memorial Sloan Kettering is a designated Center of Excellence by Specialty Care Management.

TRICARE

Hospital and physician services may be covered by TRICARE. Please call your TRICARE plan to confirm coverage at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

UnitedHealthcare

Memorial Sloan Kettering is an in-network provider with UnitedHealthCare's HMO, POS, and PPO plans. Please confirm with your insurance if a one-time referral is needed.

UnitedHealthCare's Medicare Managed Care plan does not include Memorial Sloan Kettering as an in-network provider.

United does not include us in any of the plans you can buy through the insurance exchanges.

Memorial Sloan Kettering is a designated Center of Excellence by UnitedHealthcare.

Contact and Location

Find a Convenient Location

Memorial Sloan Kettering has locations throughout New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, and Westchester. These locations offers many services, including screening, chemotherapy, and medical testing.

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About Me

Education

MD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School

Residencies

General Surgery - Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Thoracic Surgery - University of Virginia Health System

Fellowships

Surgical Critical Care - University of Virginia Health System; Surgical Critical Care - Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Board Certifications

General Surgery; Thoracic Surgery; Surgical Critical Care

I am a thoracic surgeon who cares for people with cancers of the chest. These include lung cancer, esophageal cancer, mediastinal tumors, thymic tumors, mesothelioma and chest wall tumors, as well as cancers that have metastasized (spread) to the lung from other parts of the body.

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I have particular expertise in minimally invasive techniques such as robotic-assisted and video-assisted thoracic surgery, which can help minimize pain and speed recovery. I see approximately 400 patients with cancers of the chest each year and perform approximately 300 procedures annually. I strive to use minimally invasive approaches whenever possible so patients can recover as quickly as possible.

Having experienced cancer in several members of my own family, I can relate to how patients and their families may feel overwhelmed by a new cancer diagnosis and the potential treatment options.  It can be intimidating to select which treatment is right for them. I take the time to answer patients’ questions so they have all the information they need to decide the next steps in their care. I work closely with my colleagues in medical oncology, radiation oncology, and pathology to develop a treatment plan for each patient that reflects their wishes for the best possible outcome and an improved quality of life.

In addition to being a thoracic surgeon, I am board-certified in surgical critical care and take care of patients in MSK’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I also serve as Director of the Memorial Hospital Step-Down Unit, which provides care for medical and surgical patients who need intermediate-level care.

As Co-Director of MSK’s multidisciplinary Thoracic Liquid Biopsy Program, I research liquid biopsies - technologies that test blood and other fluids and are therefore less invasive than tissue biopsies. Liquid biopsies can improve the early detection and precision treatment of lung cancer, as well as monitor changes in a patient’s disease. I am leading clinical trials to investigate whether a liquid biopsy is useful in guiding treatment decisions among patients with early lung cancers that can be surgically removed, and to test for the very first signs that their cancer has recurred when there is a better chance of curative treatment.

I also study ways to better predict complications after surgery to help patients with thoracic cancers decide which treatment is best for them.

Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my wife, who is a pediatrician, and our three children. We have fun going hiking and camping and often take weekend road trips. We also love traveling. Our most memorable trip was to Ireland, and we look forward to planning our next vacation together.

Colleagues

Doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering work as teams, with specialists from all different areas. This allows us to consider all your needs together, and to give you the best possible care.

See all Thoracic Service doctors

Clinical Trials

Find a Clinical Trial for You

Memorial Sloan Kettering's doctors and scientists are constantly developing new treatments for cancer. MSK is typically running hundreds of clinical trials at a given time.

You may be able to participate in a clinical trial even if you are new to MSK. Search our online directory to find trial information and see more about who can participate.

Search clinical trials

Research and Publications

Isbell JM, Deppen S., Putnam J.B. Jr., Nesbitt J.C., Lambright E.S., Dawes A., MassionP.P., Speroff T., Jones D.R., and Grogan E.L. Existing general population models inaccurately predict lung cancer risk in patients referred for surgical evaluation. Annals of Thoracic Surgery 91:227-33, 2011.

Isbell JM and Jones DR. Parenchymal-sparing lung resections: technique of sleeve resections. Operative Techniques in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery: A Comparative Atlas. 2011; 16:215-25.

Taylor MD, Lapar DJ, Davis JP, Isbell JM, Kozower BD, Lau CL, Jones DR. Induction chemoradiotherapy and surgery for esophageal cancer: survival benefit with downstaging. Annals of Thoracic Surgery 96: 225-230, 2013.

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Walters DM, Vaughn NH, Isbell JM, Jeffus SK, Atkins KA, Sauer BG, Jones DR. Leiomyoma presenting as a massive calcified circumferential esophageal mass. Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 2013; 96:1851-4.

Taylor MD, Lapar DJ, Isbell JM, Kozower BD, Lau CL, Jones DR. Marginal pulmonary function should not preclude lobectomy in selected patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. 2014; 147:738-44.

Hu Y, McMurry TL, Wells KM, Isbell JM, Stukenborg GJ, Kozower BD. Postoperative mortality is an inadequate quality indicator for lung cancer resection. Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 2014; 97:973-9.

Hu Y, McMurry TL, Isbell JM, Stukenborg GJ, Kozower BD. Readmission after lung cancer resection is associated with a 6-fold increase in 90-day postoperative mortality. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. 2014; 148:2261-7.

Walters DM, McMurry TL, Isbell JM, Stukenborg GJ, Kozower BD. Understanding mortality as a quality indicator after esophagectomy. Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 2014; 2:506-512.

Kiankhooy A, Taylor MD, LaPar DJ, Isbell JM, Lau CL, Kozower BD, Jones DR. Predictors of early recurrence for node-negative T1 and T2 non-small cell lung cancer. Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 2014; 4:1175-83.

Publications on PubMed

Visit PubMed for a full listing of Dr. Isbell’s journal articles. Pubmed is an online index of research papers and other articles from the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.

See all on PubMed

Disclosures

Doctors and faculty members often work with pharmaceutical, device, biotechnology, and life sciences companies, and other organizations outside of MSK, to find safe and effective cancer treatments, to improve patient care, and to educate the health care community.

MSK requires doctors and faculty members to report (“disclose”) the relationships and financial interests they have with external entities. As a commitment to transparency with our community, we make that information available to the public.

James M. Isbell discloses the following relationships and financial interests:

  • Genentech
    Provision of Services (uncompensated)
  • LumaCyte
    Ownership / Equity Interests

If you’re a patient at MSK and would like more information about your doctor’s external relationships, please talk with your doctor.

The information published here is for a specific annual disclosure period. There may be differences between information on this and other public sites as a result of different reporting periods and/or the various ways relationships and financial interests are categorized by organizations that publish such data.


This page and data include information for a specific MSK annual disclosure period (January 1, 2020 through disclosure submission in spring 2021). This data reflects interests that may or may not still exist. This data is updated annually.

Learn more about MSK’s COI policies here. For questions regarding MSK’s COI-related policies and procedures, email MSK’s Compliance Office at ecoi@mskcc.org.


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