PATIENTS would probably be unhappy to hear their often serious illnesses being compared to foodstuffs by doctors and now a researcher has discovered where the curious practice originated.

Medical staff are known to name conditions after meals or drinks as a shorthand way of identifying them easily during discussions about their needs.

Gastrointestinal tumours resembling "mushrooms" or "cauliflower florets" and a skin infection looking like "spaghetti and meatball" are among the least stomach-churning comparisons.

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Dr Ritu Lakhtakia of the Sultan Qaboos University in Oman believes she has found the origin of the phrases.

She wrote in the journal Medical Humanities: "A part of this curious tradition may owe its origins to ­practising physicians and researchers catching up on their meals in clinical side rooms or operating theatre offices, or with an inevitably cold platter eaten with eyes glued to a microscope.

"It is a wonder that, in the midst of the smells and sights of human affliction, a physician has the stomach to think of food at all."