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Ask a nurse (closed)

Do you have a question about cancer? Our Digital Nurse Ellen or one of our specialist nurses will aim to respond within 2 working days.

My dad has colon cancer, which can't be operated on because of other health issues.

Posted by

Hello, I'm writing as I am caring for my dad who is very frail and suffering from colon cancer and COPD. Although we were told that dad's cancer has not spread etc, I was concerned today when dad had an attack of very bad diaerhoa, which was completely dark in colour, tar like colour and consistency. I was really frightened. Even though I knew to expect blood in dads stools, this was of a different consistency. I am afraid now, that dads stool will be like this all the time. He is aneamic, and had a blood transfusion 3 weeks ago and although there is a regular check on his full blood count, i worry this blood in the stools would be too much blood loss. Can you please advise if it is likely that dad's stools will continue to be tarry or what i should expect to see please. I ask, because the current situation we are having with covid 19, has meant that my dads appointment this week to see his consultant, has been cancelled. I would appreciate any help and advice....Thank you....Sharon x

Steph - Macmillan
Posted by

Hello Celeste44

Thank you so much for your question and I am sorry that we haven’t yet been able to respond.

Although we’ve had to close the session for new questions, our nurses will be posting a response to any existing questions as soon as they possibly can. We really appreciate your patience at this extremely busy time and hope you’re ok.

Please remember that if you are experiencing any new or worsening symptoms, you should contact your GP or specialist medical team as your first priority.

In case it’s useful, we have information about Coronavirus on our website. For more information, including what to do if you have symptoms and how to reduce the risk of infection, please visit the NHS website.

Thank you for being part of the Community.

Take care,

Online Community Officer
Elise - Macmillan
Posted by

Hello Celeste44,

Thank you for getting in touch and welcome to our Online Community. I can see that you’ve already had wonderful advice from Thehighlander (as usual!).

I can understand your need to know what to look about for and while it’s not unusual to have blood in the stools because of colon cancer you’re right to be concerned about the effect this might be having on your dad.

When stool is like tar it usually means that there is a few drops of blood , it is old blood or is coming from higher up the digestive tract. When stool is red then this can mean the blood is fresh and coming from nearer the anus.

A small amount of blood on wiping after a bowel motion doesn’t require urgent medical care but active bleeding does (i.e. bleeding without going to the toilet)

You should call 999 if your dad has any of the following alongside bleeding:

  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness after standing up
  • Blurred vision
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Cold, clammy, pale skin
  • Low urine output


It’s possible that your dad’s bowel habits will be abnormal from now on and it can be difficult to keep track of what his “new normal “ might be but if you think at any point that things are even more abnormal then do speak to your dad’s GP.

Keeping hydrated is important when managing diarrhoea and again , if your dad is not drinking well then do speak to his GP. Pharmacists are also great for advice.

I hope this is helpful and remember you can call the information nurses on the support line a call.

Best wishes and take care,

Cancer Information Nurse Specialist